On Wednesday, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. There were a total of 2,457 new cases of the virus and 15 additional deaths.

“We are without a doubt headed into the darkest part of the coronavirus for Mississippi,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Chief Medical Officer for the MSDH. He said it is unlikely that the state has seen peak numbers for the year as the winter months approach.

Dobbs said the rapid rise in cases has increased the strain felt by hospitals across the state. Currently 13 major hospitals have no ICU beds available, while many others are only at 10 percent availability. Dobbs said many of those hospitals are also in rural areas without the greatest need.

Based on today’s numbers there were 145 new hospital admissions for COVID-19 with three pediatric ICU patients. He reminded the press that each person counts as one COVID-19 case, whether they are tested one time or 10. He gave the explanation to dispel any rumors of case number inflation.

According to Dobbs, he recommends that individuals avoid any and all social gatherings that are non-emergency outside of the family with which you live. That includes family gatherings, church services, weddings and funerals.

“We have to remember that many, if not most transmissions are occurring from people that do not know they have it,” said Dobbs. “Assume anyone you come in contact with is going to be a contagious coronavirus case.”

While many focus on pushing for a statewide mask mandate, Dobbs said that is not his greatest concern. He is more focused on people avoiding social gatherings. He said wearing a mask will only do so much. Transmission seems to be occurring when people are gathered together without wearing a mask.

“I really recommend people doing as little as possible for the time being,” said Dobbs. “It’s these social things and ceremonies that are driving up transmission.”

Dr. Paul Byers, State Epidemiologist, said that by their reporting deaths within long term care facilities could rise to the numbers Mississippi saw in the spring and summer months, which got as high as 40 deaths a day.

The cases per day have also been on the rise since the end of October, showing increases that will drastically overshadow those from prior months.

With a vaccine available just around the corner, Dobbs encouraged everyone to avoid social gatherings at all costs. The first round of the vaccine is anticipated to go to hospitals for distribution among the most high risk which would include staff and possibly EMS.

MSDH is also planning to hold mobile clinics for independent healthcare workers. They believe the vaccine will be available to the general public by the beginning of the spring.

Dobbs encouraged sports spectators to bypass attending events for the time being and even encouraged schools to consider postponing the basketball season or make restrictions on fans in the stands.

Dobbs did mention that there were no reports of traceable mass outbreaks after the Mississippi State Fair.