Thanksgiving and indoor sports could worsen the spread of COVID-19 as Mississippi’s cases of the virus continue to spike, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned the public in an online Q&A last week.

Dobbs urged Mississippians to take the situation seriously, calling it a severe surge with near record-high numbers. Social events are a big factor in the virus’ spread, and Dobbs strongly recommended against them.

“Going into the holiday season, there’s a real possibility for this to be even worse,” Dobbs said. “A couple of weeks, if we just moderate our behavior, wear our masks in public, don’t go to social gatherings, it’ll be a remarkable difference.”

Liz Sharlot, communications director for Mississippi State Department of Health who moderated the session, advised people to think long-term about the importance of avoiding Thanksgiving gatherings.

“We realize, the holidays, it’s very difficult to not be with your families, but we heard someone say, ‘This year, don’t be with them so you can be with them in future years,’” Sharlot said.

College students coming home for Thanksgiving should get tested for COVID-19 before their return.

Dobbs reminded college students that they can get tested for no reason, and MSDH is trying to increase testing in college towns.

He particularly encouraged students who live with someone older or more medically vulnerable to get tested. However, that test isn’t a guarantee of safety.

Dobbs said a test only reflects the moment in which it was taken, and rapid tests can miss cases that are in the early stages of infection or are asymptomatic.

“A test is not a passport to safety,” Dobbs said. “Even if you do get a test, please be careful. Maintain that space.”

“If you had everybody, a big group of people, and they all had a negative test, I still think it’s a high likelihood of an outbreak,” he added.

College students coming home from school for the holiday need to avoid bars and other group settings in the weeks leading up to their return home, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said.

“It’s important to limit your exposures on the front end so that you don’t bring that home to mom or grandmom or somebody else in the household who may be at high risk,” he said.

While Dobbs believes Mississippi got through football season reasonably well, indoor sports present more problems.

“Basketball worries us greatly,” he said. “We know the indoor environments are so much more risky. The wrong setting, people breathing hard indoors, close proximity...we’re very worried about it.”

He is troubled by people making youth sports a priority. While he sympathized with kids wanting to play, the attendance is an issue.

“Don’t go to a sporting event. It’s not safe right now,” Dobbs said.

Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday urged Mississippians to keep wearing masks and avoiding large groups.

“By wearing a mask, you’re not only helping protect those around you, you’re also helping protect yourself,” he said. “I know it isn’t fun. It’s something that none of us really enjoy doing. I hope that every one of you will continue to stay focused.”

The governor added seven new counties to those under an executive order requiring gathering limits and mask wearing. There are now 22 counties under that order.

“Just because you are or are not in these 22 counties does not change what is in the best interest for you and your family. What is in the best interest is, if you go out, wear a mask, please,” he said.

Mississippi State Department of Health reported 2,928 new cases of COVID-19 statewide from Saturday through Monday.

Pike County added 33 new cases over those three days. Nearby counties’ new case counts were as follows: Amite, four; Franklin, eight; Lawrence, 28; Walthall, 16; Wilkinson, one.

There were 115 new cases in Lincoln County over those three days, 51 cases of which were reported Saturday, the biggest single-day increase there since the pandemic began, topping the previous peak of 48 cases on June 22.

Although no new deaths appeared in MSDH’s numbers for those seven Southwest Mississippi counties, The Daily Leader reported that veteran Brookhaven police officer Lt. Marzell Brooks died Sunday night from COVID-19-related causes.

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