JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Another child in Mississippi has died of complications related to the coronavirus, marking the fourth pediatric death since the start of the pandemic, health officials said Wednesday.
The death occurred in a teenager who had a common underlying health condition, State Health Officer Dr. Dobbs said. The Department of Health would not release more information, citing privacy laws.
The announcement comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance calling for the return of mask-wearing in virus hotspots. The guidelines also call on all schools to require masks for students, teachers and visitors.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday he does not plan to issue a mask mandate for schools, even as the coronavirus vaccination rate in Mississippi remains among the lowest in the nation.
Mississippi Department of Health officials said Wednesday that they will echo the CDC guidance and recommend that all teachers, students and visitors at schools wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Although coronavirus-related deaths among children are still in the minority, the loss is “acute,” Dobbs said.
“It is a rare thing, but it’s a tragedy,” he said.
As of Tuesday, 10 children were hospitalized with coronavirus in Mississippi, with three in the ICU.
Two of the COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic were in children between the ages of 11 to 17, one was between the ages of 6 and 10, the other was under 5 years old. Three had underlying medical conditions. Two of those deaths were in 2020 and two in 2021.
“Anywhere that those unvaccinated individuals are getting in group setting, we’re seeing high levels of transmission that’s occurring. … As the summer progressed, we had seen outbreaks among children getting together for band camp, or for school enrichment programs over the summer, or for cheerleading camp,” State Epidemiologist Paul Byers said.
Almost all of the new coronavirus cases in Mississippi are the highly contagious delta variant. Mississippi Department of Health Senior Deputy and Director of Health Protection Jim Craig said 28 hospitals in Mississippi have reached peak ICU capacity, compared to 13 last week.
Dobbs said individuals most at risk are those 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions. A quarter of those over 65 in Mississippi are still unvaccinated, Dobbs said. Around 80% of all COVID-19 deaths in Mississippi are among unvaccinated people.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.