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COVID-19 cases in Mississippi have increased rapidly over the past two weeks, though overall numbers still remain low.

Mississippi has seen the largest percentage increase in the nation for new COVID-19 cases over that time period, according to local and state health agency data compiled by the New York Times. Mississippi’s cases increased 251% compared to 59% nationally.

The state most recently reported 701 new cases of the virus for a two-day period (Wednesday and Thursday).

“We do have transmission, there is no doubt,” Liz Sharlot, communications director at Mississippi Department of Health, said. “COVID is still here and our best advice is to get vaccinated if you have not, get your booster and second booster if you are eligible. Our concern remains with elderly folks that don’t get the second booster. It does make a difference.”

Even with the recent increased transmission, 80 of Mississippi’s 82 counties have low levels  of COVID-19 at the community level, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.

Jasper and Wilkinson counties are experiencing “medium level transmission.” At that level, the CDC recommends that people at high risk for severe illness talk to their health care provider about whether they need to wear a mask and take other precautions.

The overall rate of COVID-19 transmission in Mississippi cratered following the explosive omicron wave seen in January, but has been rising again over the past month. Mississippi’s 7-day average for new cases was 104 on April 12, but had risen to 337 as of May 12.

There has been an uptick in outbreaks among long-term care facilities, which state health officials said could be an indicator of increased community spread.

Actual numbers are likely higher because of the increased use of at-home testing that goes unreported to the state health department.

The omicron variant still accounts for virtually all COVID cases in Mississippi.

Mississippi remains one of the least vaccinated states in the nation. The only state that has vaccinated less of its population is Wyoming.

As of May 11, 60% of Mississippians had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 52% had received at least two doses. The state has had more difficulty getting vaccinated people to receive booster does. Only 19% of the state’s population has received at least one booster dose, representing less than a third of those who have taken a COVID-19 vaccine in the state.

The largest share of recent COVID deaths in the state is among those who have not been vaccinated or are only partially vaccinated. That group made up over 47% of COVID-19 deaths in the state from April 12 to May 9, while fully vaccinated Mississippians, defined as those who received the booster, made up 17% of deaths in that period.

Just under 30% of deaths were fully vaccinated but had not received the booster. Another 5.9% were fully vaccinated but ineligible for the booster.

Although the state’s rate of hospitalizations has decreased as case counts have risen, those rates are a lagging indicator. The health department  said the use of intensive care unit beds and ventilators for COVID patients remains low.

The availability of oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19, such as Paxlovid and molnupiravir, has increased dramatically in Mississippi since January and has helped reduce hospitalizations.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the definitions used in the information regarding deaths by vaccination status.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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