(MISSISSIPPI) — More than 20,000 students across Mississippi are in quarantine after the first week of in-person classes.
Mississippi, which has the lowest vaccination rate among all states — about 34%, according to state data — is reeling from rising COVID-19 cases and the highly transmissible delta variant. Last week, a 13-year-old eighth grader died after testing positive — the fifth Mississippi child to die during the pandemic.
Some schools reopened last week, and so far 4,521 students have tested positive for COVID-19 and 20,334 have been quarantined due to exposure — about 5% of the state’s public school students, according to data compiled by the state Aug. 9 to Aug. 13 from over 800 schools.
Additionally, 948 teachers or staffers tested positive last week and 1,463 were quarantined due to exposure, according to state data.
Dr. Paul Byers, the state epidemiologist, painted a somber picture of the crisis unfolding in real time during a call with state pediatricians on Wednesday.
“These are dramatic numbers,” he added. “We are clearly at the worst part of the pandemic that we’ve seen throughout, and it’s continuing to worsen.”
Gov. Tate Reeves has not mandated masks in schools, instead letting districts decide for themselves.
About 600 schools have implemented universal masking for indoor settings following the recent spike in cases and isolations, Mississippi newspaper The Clarion-Ledger reported. The Biloxi school board, and the Gulfport and Hancock districts are among those requiring students to wear masks.
Governors and school districts throughout the U.S. have sparred over mandating masks in classrooms even as children younger than 12 still can’t be vaccinated.
New COVID-19 infections among 5-to-17-year-olds in Mississippi have risen steadily since March, accounting for about 20% of new cases through July, according to state data.
On Saturday, 13-year-old Mkayla Robinson died in Smith County, according to ABC Jackson affiliate WAPT.
“She was loved by all of her teachers,” Smith County Schools Superintendent Nick Hillman told WAPT. “She was an honor student, a band student. Everybody says if they had 30 kids in the classroom like her, they have the perfect classroom.”
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.