by Dr. Algernon Austin, Senior Researcher, Thurgood Marshall Institute
At this time, Mississippi has the sixth highest COVID-19 death rate, and the 17th highest coronavirus-case rate. African Americans make up a disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths in the state. Four of the top ten coronavirus-case hot spots and five of the top ten COVID-19-deaths hot spots are in counties where African Americans make up a larger share of the population than their statewide average.
Mississippi’s Covid Exit Strategy rating: Trending poorly.
As of October 6, 2020, Mississippi had the 17th highest number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 over the last seven days of any state in the United States. It had the sixth highest number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 over the same period.
New coronavirus cases are on the rise again in Mississippi (Figure 1). After the loosening of the face mask mandate in September, the State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned that Mississippi is “still vulnerable for a rebound” and “still vulnerable for another surge.” This warning may be coming true. The 7-day average for the number of new coronavirus cases has increased by more than 100 cases since mid-September.
The trend for new COVID-19 deaths is better than for coronavirus cases. Mississippi’s 7-day average for the number of new COVID-19 deaths is down to 10 from an August high of 34 (Figure 2).
Using data collected on October 4, 2020 by the COVID Tracking Project, the Thurgood Marshall Institute compared the share of Black people in the Mississippi population to the share of Black people among Mississippi’s coronavirus cases and COVID-19 deaths. Mississippi had no substantial discrepancy between the Black share of the state population (37.8 percent) and the Black share of coronavirus cases in the state (38.8 percent). On the other hand, 46.1 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the state were of African Americans — 8.3 percentage points higher than the Black share of the state population.
African Americans in Mississippi should pressure officials to find out and address the root cause of this high rate of Black COVID-19 deaths. Is it due to inequalities in access to medical care or to differing rates of comorbidities? This is an answerable question, and Black Mississippians should see that they receive the answer.
Black communities in Mississippi should be highly vigilant about COVID-19. The state’s coronavirus case rate per 100,000 is 136, well above the national average of 93 cases per 100,000 (Table). Four of the top ten coronavirus-case hot spots are in counties where African Americans make up a larger share of the population than their statewide average (Table). Two of these counties are majority African American. Five of the top ten hot spots for COVID-19 deaths are disproportionately African American. Four of these counties are majority African American. Since Black Mississippians are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, they should use their voices to call for stronger policies and more resources to address the pandemic both nationally and in their state.
The Mississippi State Department of Health calls on residents to follow COVID-19 public health guidelines which include maintaining a six foot physical distance from others in public, wearing face masks when not at home, washing one’s hands frequently, and staying home if you are sick.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Mississippi State Department of Health: https://www.msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/14,0,420.html
Covid Exit Strategy: https://www.covidexitstrategy.org/
Answers to frequently asked questions about the new coronavirus by the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/coronavirus-tips-advice.html
 Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest map and case count, N.Y. Times (Oct. 7, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html.
 Quoted in Luke Ramseth, Reeves lifts most of statewide mask mandate, tweaks other coronavirus rules, Miss. Clarion Ledger (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/30/gov-tate-reeves-lifts-most-mississippis-covid-19-mask-mandate/3586158001/.
 The Black share of cases and deaths is a conservative estimate. Fourteen percent of the coronavirus cases and 2.2 percent of the COVID-19 deaths are of an unknown race. If any of these unknowns are Black, then the Black share of cases and deaths would be higher.
 COVID-19 Guidance and Prevention for Individuals and the Community, Miss. St. Dep’t of Health (last visited Oct. 7, 2020), https://www.msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/14,21866,420.html#individuals.