Early on, Black Mississippians accounted for roughly 60% of the state’s cases and deaths, the state health department says.
But the tide has turned in the Magnolia State.
While several factors may be at play, the state health officer suggests one in particular: He thinks large segments of the White population aren’t social distancing and wearing masks as wholeheartedly as much of the Black community has been recently.
“And I just will say … I think big parts of the White community, especially in areas that maybe weren’t as hard-affected (previously), have not been as compliant or engaged actively with social distancing and masking. And I think that does make a difference.”
Asked about this Thursday, Dobbs told CNN he’s relying somewhat on anecdotal evidence, but also “looking at how schools are operating. We are seeing a lot more enthusiastic compliance with … masking in public” and social distancing “in the Black community.”
And, “we’ve seen a lot of stuff (with) parent-sponsored youth events — dances, parties, things of that nature, that have really undermined a lot of our efforts to keep the schools open,” he said.
Dobbs highlighted a case to reporters earlier this week: Sumrall High School outside Hattiesburg closed for two weeks starting October 15 because of a Covid-19 outbreak that “seems to be related to an extracurricular social event put on by families and parents,” he said.
Mississippi reissues mask mandates for some counties as cases rise
Dobbs’ words about mask-wearing and distancing come as Mississippi, like the country, is seeing rises in new daily cases after easing down from a summer surge.
On September 14, Mississippi reported its post-peak low for average daily cases: 412, Johns Hopkins University data show. That meshes with the country’s post-peak case low of September 12. Reeves allowed the statewide mask mandate to expire September 30.
Case averages are now on the rise, reaching the 750s this week. On Monday, Reeves put nine of Mississippi’s 82 counties back on a mask mandate and limited their indoor gatherings to 10 people, citing high case numbers there.
“None of these elements are silver bullets,” Reeves told reporters Monday. “I don’t expect that any of these measures will eliminate the virus, and we have to allow for life to go on in the meantime. As we wait for a vaccine, our mission is the same … it is to prevent our health care system from becoming overwhelmed.”
Cases and deaths among Whites are rising faster than those among African Americans
Native Americans had 4.35% of cases and 5.5% of deaths. No Asian deaths were reported by then, and Asians represented less than 1% of cases.
Hispanics on June 21 accounted for 5.4% of cases and 1.6% of deaths, but their numbers also are included in each racial category such as Black or White.
Cases and deaths among White Mississippians kicked up in the summer but really took off in comparison with African Americans’ data in September, by which time Whites’ cases were accumulating at twice the rate of Blacks’, state health department data show.
By Tuesday, White people accounted for nearly 47% of the state’s 3,323 total deaths, versus 46% for Blacks, 2.7% for Native Americans, and less than 1% for Asians. Hispanics of any race were at 1.3%.
And by Tuesday, Whites represented a plurality of the state’s 112,123 total cases at 38.8%, with 37.9% for Blacks, Native Americans at 1.2%, and less than 1% for Asians. “Unknown” and “other” accounted for 14.6% and 7.2%, respectively. Hispanics of any race were at 2.8%.
In October’s first two full weeks, about 60% of the state’s new cases and deaths were among White Mississippians, Dobbs said Monday.
“Indoor social events are what’s driving the transmission of coronavirus in Mississippi. … If you’re going to do something, do it outdoors,” Dobbs said last week.
Official messages about Covid-19 precautions may be a factor
That African Americans were hit hardest first in Mississippi is no surprise to Girmay Berhie, dean of Jackson State University’s College of Health Sciences and School of Public Health.
High concentrations of poverty are also correlated with concentrations of poor health, Berhie says.
“Covid-19 exposed glaring health disparities in the African American community, and as a result the African American community are paying the price,” Berhie said in a phone interview Thursday.
Jackson State, he said, has heavily pushed social distancing and mask wearing not only on campus but in the wider community, once hosting a town hall with 22 African American churches or religious groups to trumpet the message.
Dobbs put it this way Thursday: “It may well be we’ve found a pretty receptive audience in the African American community, and it may well be because they were hit so hard and have personal experience. But we’re not having the same success we’ve seen with other segments of the population.”
“When I hear Dr. (Anthony) Fauci saying A, and other people hear the President saying B, those are not good. We have to be … giving the same message,” Berhie said.
“It does not matter if I am conservative or liberal, short, tall, White, brown or red. Health is health. We should follow science and enable data. The message should be the same,” he said.