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‘It’s not safe’: As pandemic worsens, teachers plan to rally against reopening schools

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(Photo by Alexandra Koch)

Mississippi teachers are planning a rally at the state Capitol Friday to urge state leaders not to reopen schools for the upcoming school year as the state’s coronavirus statistics continue to worsen.

A Facebook group called “Mississippi Teachers Unite” is organizing the event, and organizers list two demands:

  • That the Mississippi Department of Education postpone reopening schools until Sept. 1 to ensure safe environments for students and teachers. The department must also make sure schools can meet current CDC safety guidelines and not allow schools to conduct in-person classes until those needs are met.
  • Fully fund schools so that districts and teachers do not have to purchase their own personal protective equipment to return to work

The group identifies itself as “a non-affiliated grassroots group of Mississippi teachers, school staff, and supportive community members who are concerned for the safety of our students, ourselves and our communities in returning to school.”

“All of us want to be back with our kids is the biggest thing,” said Max Vanlandingham, a teacher involved in planning the event. “Parents want their children to be in school, kids want to be in school, teachers want to be in school, but it’s not safe at this point.”

He emphasized Friday’s 11 a.m. rally is not a strike, but a group of teachers voicing their concerns about returning to the classroom as the number of new cases and deaths continues to rise in Mississippi. Teachers cannot legally strike in Mississippi or they will be fired from their jobs and banned from teaching in the state thereafter.

The event comes on the heels of dire warnings from public officials. Last week the state’s top health officials pleaded for people to take the virus seriously as hospitals and ICUs are running out of beds and having to turn away patients. Rolling averages for patients in an ICU have increased for 16 consecutive days, and the number of patients on ventilators have increased for the past nine days.

“It makes no sense to rush back into a model that we deemed unsafe four months ago,” said Don Turner, a Mississippian who has organized the Mississippi chapter of Safe Return to Campus, a group advocating that schools do not return to campus until counties show no new cases for 14 days. “There’s this kind of laissez-faire attitude taken and no clear directive from leaders.”

Gov. Tate Reeves last week said he was still “100 percent committed” to districts starting school this fall in a “safe, responsible way.” When the pandemic became serious in the spring, Reeves closed school buildings and districts had to pivot to remote learning. As schools across the state are preparing to open up for the new school year, the state Department of Education has given them three options to choose from: in-person, traditional schooling, virtual learning or some hybrid of the two.

Each school district has to make a decision and post it to its website by July 31. Many have already done so, making tough decisions about how and when students will report back to the classroom if at all, how lunches will be served and bus transportation will work.

However, as the number of cases in the state continued to reach an all-time high last week, Reeves announced a mask ordinance for 13 counties based on criteria of having seen 200 new cases within the last 14 days or an average of 500 cases per 100,000 residents over that time. This throws a wrench in plans for districts in those counties, which now have to figure out how to operate and comply with the mandate which limits social gatherings to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors.


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

COVID-19

Governor adds seven counties to list of those under stricter COVID-19 measures

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Gov. Tate Reeves during April 22 news conference. (Photo via video screen grab)

Monday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves added seven counties to the list of those in the state that will fall under more restrictive COVID-19 measures effective Wednesday, Oct. 21.

With cases and hospitalizations rising in the state, last week Reeves put nine counties under the stricter measures, which include a mask mandate in nearly all indoor situations other than at voting precincts.

The 16 counties are:

  • Benton
  • Carroll
  • Chickasaw
  • Claiborne
  • DeSoto
  • Forrest
  • Harrison
  • Itawamba
  • Jackson
  • Jones
  • Lamar
  • Leake
  • Lee
  • Madison
  • Marshall
  • Neshoba

The governor’s criteria for stricter measures includes more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents or more than 200 cases over a two-week period. The most recent period under scrutiny was Monday, Oct. 5, through Sunday, Oct. 18.

The measures also mandate hospitals to reserve 10% of their capacity for COVID-19 patients, and limit gathering to groups of 10 indoors and 50 outdoors.

Asked why Reeves excluded polling places from the mandates, the governor indicated he would not interfere with a citizen’s right to vote by forcing voters to wear masks. He does expect most voters to wear masks at the polls and to practice social distancing, however.

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Business

Vicksburg’s China Buffet reopens for dine-in service Nov. 4

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(photo via Facebook, used with permission)

The China Buffet of Vicksburg will be back open for dine-in service Wednesday, Nov. 4.

The restaurant, located at 4150 S. Frontage Road, announced the reopening Monday on its Facebook page.

China Buffet closed its doors earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and a short time later reopened for carry-out service only.

As of next week, customers will be able to sit down and eat inside again and enjoy the buffet for the first time in months at the popular restaurant.

Customers can still call in their orders to pick up food (601-630-0331) until the dine-in service begins.

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COVID-19

Mississippi reports 675 new COVID-19 cases this weekend; 7-day average up 30% from last month

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The number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the U.S., with a 23% increase over the past week and two record-setting days. In Mississippi, the seven-day average is 30% higher now than it was one month ago.

Almost no state is immune to the rise, with 37 states reporting growing numbers of new cases and the other 13 relatively flat, according to Johns Hopkins University data. No state reported statistically significant COVID-19 decreases last week.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported three new COVID-19 cases Sunday and Monday in Warren County and one new death identified from a death certificate report. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,551, and the county’s death toll is 56.

Statewide, MSDH reported 675 new COVID-19 cases Monday for Sunday and Monday, with 228 reported Sunday and 447 Monday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 115,763. The seven-day average of new cases is 739, higher by 226 cases or about 30% higher than a month ago.

Most new cases are seen in younger people recesntly, and they are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. By far, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are young people from 18 to 29 years old.

MSDH reported Monday that eight additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,263. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.8%.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day was 67 reported Aug. 25.

Of the eight deaths MSDH reported Monday, four occurred between Oct. 11 and Oct. 25 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Monday
George 1
Leake 1
Marion 1
Tippah 1

Another four COVID-19 related deaths occurred between Aug. 29 and Oct. 6 and were identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths identified from death certificate reports
Grenada 1
Hinds 1
Jackson 1
Warren 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, and Sunday, Oct. 25. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations nearly tripled by late July. They leveled off in early August and began noticeably dropping in the middle of the month including critical cases and numbers of people requiring ventilators. Hospitalizations continued to drop in September but levelled off at the middle of the month. They dropped again through Oct. 3; however, hospitalizations have been rising since then.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, is 679, more than half of the late July peak of about 1,200. The number includes 580 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 99 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 157 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 66 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 101,385 through Sunday, Oct. 25. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 87.6% of the cumulative 115,763 cases reported as of Monday, Oct. 26.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Monday, Oct. 5, was 1,431, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,375, or about 88.7% of the 1,551 cumulative cases reported as of Monday, Oct. 26. The county has an estimated 120 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Saturday, Oct. 10 (the latest testing results reported by MSDH), is 900,479 or about 30.3% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. Without an updated number of tests, it is impossible to accurately calculate Mississippi’s positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average), however, the rate was 16.6% Thursday according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 6.2%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities was 133 Monday. About 40%, or 1,304, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 26 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data here. The latest data available is for the week ending Oct. 11.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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