More than 4,400 students in Mississippi are quarantining after being exposed to Covid-19 in the first weeks of the school year, according to data from the state’s department of health.
The department tracked student and staff Covid-19 exposure and positive cases by individual schools and counties from August 2 through August 6, and officials said 43 out of Mississippi’s 82 counties submitted reporting.
Mississippi is one of 46 states in the US seeing a surge in cases, which is alarming experts as students return to school. Vaccines have not yet been approved for kids under 12, and vaccination rates for adolescents who are old enough to get them remain low, experts say.
With more children hospitalized and the more transmissible Delta variant spreading, this is one of the most dangerous times in the pandemic for children, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said this week.
The highest number of students and staff exposed to the virus was in Lamar County, according to the state data. The Lamar County School District serves over 10,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The district’s five schools in the town of Oak Grove had over 110 students tested positive during the first week of school, resulting in about 841 students having to quarantine, according to the state.
According to the Lamar County School District’s return-to-school plan posted on its website, all students began in-person classes on July 26. Face coverings were required starting August 2, according to the plan, and will tentatively end this weekend.
Some schools had already been forced to switch to a hybrid schedule due to the surge. And on Monday, district superintendent Steven Hampton proposed a hybrid schedule for the district during a board meeting, saying while he believes face-to-face learning is best, a hybrid model would help avoid having all of the schools be virtual.
“Face-to-face learning is the best way for our children to learn but I just don’t feel like it’s safe,” Hampton said.
The district said one group of students will go to school every Monday and Wednesday and every other Friday. A second group will go to school every Tuesday and Thursday and rotate Fridays, CNN previously reported.
CNN has reached out to the Lamar County School District.
Healthy children being hospitalized
A rise in cases from the increased exposure would add to the burden on Mississippi hospitals.
Statewide, 14 children are hospitalized with Covid-19, six are in the ICU and four are on life support, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s pediatric hospital is full, with the highest numbers they’ve seen during the pandemic, said Dr. Alan Jones, UMMC associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs and COVID-19 clinical response leader.
“We are seeing numbers more than we ever have before of healthy children that are getting hospitalized,” Jones said.
UMMC saw 101 adult patients and 26 pediatric patients Wednesday. Ninety percent of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, Vice Chancellor and COVID-19 Incident Commander Dr. LouAnn Woodward said.
Woodward also said the hospital’s “biggest pain point” is nursing staff availability. There are some medical surgical and ICU beds unable to open due to low nursing staff numbers, she said.