Although it is true that the coronavirus has been spreading more rapidly in the last few weeks, a little context would be helpful as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches and families must decide how or whether to celebrate.
First, when compared to other states, Mississippi’s rate of infection is low. The Washington Post website ranks Mississippi 34th in terms of the number of infections per 100,000 residents over the past week. Like almost everywhere else, our infection rate is rising — but it is only about one-fifth the rate of North Dakota, the state that currently is the hardest hit.
As for deaths per 100,000 people, Mississippi ranks 21st in the past week. This summer the state regularly was in the top five.
It’s worth pointing out that both the number of infections and deaths in Mississippi are lower than they were this summer. That is good news, but the obvious concern is if the virus continues to spread in the coming weeks, higher rates are all but certain.
Other information from the Mississippi State Department of Health website points to a similar trend of rising rates that, for now, fortunately remain well below this summer’s peaks.
The number of coronavirus patients in Mississippi hospital intensive care units was 222 on Wednesday. That is up from 124 patients on Oct. 1, about six weeks ago, but it is still far below the ICU peak of 337 patients in early August.
It’s the same story with the number of patients on ventilators. On Oct. 1, 70 patients were receiving the breathing assistance, and the low point that month was 57 on Oct. 10. But as of this week, 103 patients were on ventilators — another increase from a few weeks back. That’s not great news, but compared to the ventilator peak of 198 patients in August, it’s still only about half.
The best news is that the number of deaths in the state attributed to the virus has been fairly steady in recent weeks. October was the clear low point for deaths, and deaths did increase at the end of that month and in November, but only by a small number per day.
Even more heartening is that the number of deaths in long-term care facilities in Mississippi has declined noticeably since the summer. This has been achieved in spite of the fact that the elderly are by far most at risk of dying from the coronavirus.
Residents aged 49 and under are extremely likely to survive an infection. Through Wednesday, the state reports confirmed infections among 86,433 people under age 50 since the pandemic arrived in the spring. Only 232 of them have died, which is a mortality rate of three-tenths of 1%.
Among people in Mississippi between 50 and 64, there have been 28,069 infections and 663 deaths — a mortality rate of 2.4%. And the state reports 22,624 infections among those 65 and older along with 2,721 deaths. That means 12% of senior citizens who got the virus have died.
The public should be concerned that many metrics of the virus have increased in recent weeks. But even with these increases, we’re nowhere near as bad off as we were a few months ago. The key is to prevent ourselves from getting back to those higher levels.
That last figure — 12% of senior citizens who got the coronavirus have died — is the one that people need to keep in mind over the next week. We can argue about the merits of masks and herd immunity. We can look forward to the development of a vaccine. We can debate the appropriate balance of keeping the economy as open as possible while trying to keep the virus from spreading.
But a 12% mortality rate among infected senior citizens should alarm all of us.
This is not intended to tell any family what to do for Thanksgiving. But the numbers say that, even after eight wearisome months, we must remain careful, especially around seniors.