Masks, mask mandates, vaccine hesitancy, and natural immunity all on the table in this interview with Dobbs.

In an expanded interview with Y’all Politics, Dr. Thomas Dobbs of the Mississippi State Department of Health says the COVID-19 Delta variant was inevitable but the degree of impact to Mississippi was not.

Dr. Dobbs joined Y’all Politics Publisher Alan Lange to discuss a variety of topics, including masks, mask mandates, vaccine hesitancy, and the durability of the vaccine and natural immunity.

Mississippi’s hospital systems were already overwhelmed in most areas of the state, but this week brought an additional challenge with Hurricane Ida.

“I’ll say that we’re fortunate in that we haven’t had to do a lot of patient transfer,” Dobbs said. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, most hospitals and nursing homes have upgraded their generators allowing for the systems not to be forced to be without power for an extended period of time. Dobbs says MSDH is helping those facilities that are in need.

COVID cases in Mississippi have stabilized, Dobbs said, as have the new daily hospitalizations.

“I don’t think that we’re going to see any peaks above what we’ve seen already,” Dobbs said. “We are going to still have a lot of folks get sick, a lot folks in the hospital. The stress on the hospital system will be maintained for some weeks going forward because once someone gets sick with COVID, if they’re going to survive, it’s going to a lot times weeks for recovery.”

Dr. Dobbs says young age groups getting ill from COVID are facing new challenges, creating further strain on the hospitals.

Vaccination rates are up, he says, with nearly 1.4 million Mississippians with at least one dose. Most of the older population is vaccinated, Dobbs said, which is why the state is seeing more hospitalizations with young age groups – 30 and 40 year olds – than before since those younger age groups are less vaccinated.

As for masking, Dobbs said context matters.

“We see that people who wear masks in public catch COVID at home or at work or other places,” Dobbs said. “You’re not likely to catch COVID walking through a grocery store when you’re having a three second passing somebody in three feet. There’s not going to be that much exposure.”

But Dobbs says masking in settings where people are around others for extending periods of time, such as work or schools, makes sense based on the data. He says masks are part of layered approach for COVID prevention.

Dobbs says MSDH has not seen much transmission outdoors, clarifying recent news reports where there was an outbreak at the Neshoba County Fair. He said those transmissions were more from congregating indoors than going to the fair itself outdoors.

Dobbs says he has not pushed for a statewide mask mandate, adding that universal mask mandates are of marginal benefit.

Learn more about Hurricane Ida’s impact on the state’s hospitals along with Dr. Dobbs’ latest thinking on masks, vaccines, therapeutics and where Mississippi goes from here with COVID-19 by watching the full interview below.