Mississippi health official links rise in white virus cases over Black cases to mask views

Mississippi state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says mask wearing has helped slow down the death rate in the Black community

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At the outset of the pandemic, more African Americans in Mississippi were being infected and killed by coronavirus than white people, a disparity that medical experts blamed on racial health disparities.

Initially, Black Mississippians made up approximately 60% of the state’s cases and deaths, according to the state health department.

But things have since changed drastically in the Magnolia State.

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In roughly the past month, white people have surpassed Black people in the overall reported COVID-19 death toll for the first time since the state health department started publishing data by race in June, according to CNN.

Total COVID-19 cases around mid-October were identical to the cases in September. The two categories are aligning closer to Mississippi’s overall population: 59.1% White and 37.8% Black.

Read More: Coronavirus killing more Black and Hispanic kids: CDC study

While this could be attributed to several factors, the state health officer thinks that large segments of the white population are not practicing social distancing or wearing masks as consistently as much of the African-American community has been in recent months.

“As far as the case trends, we have had really pretty good uptake by a lot of folks in the Black community with masking and social distancing,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state health officer, told reporters Oct. 16 when asked about an uptick in cases among white residents. “We’ve worked very aggressively to make sure that the Black community understands where the risks are and what can be done to prevent that.

Read More: Masks reveal partisan split among lawmakers on coronavirus

“And I just will say … I think big parts of the white community, especially in areas that maybe weren’t as hard-affected (previously), have not been as compliant or engaged actively with social distancing and masking. And I think that does make a difference.”

As for racial differences, Dobbs said state health department data show that African Americans accounted for about 60% of cases and deaths early in the pandemic, however, by June 21, Blacks accounted for about 51% of total cases and deaths, with Whites making up 27.8% of cases and 41.6% of deaths.

Native Americans had 4.35% of cases and 5.5% of deaths. Hispanics accounted for 5.4 cases and 1.6% deaths as of June 21, but their numbers are also included in each racial category such as Black or White.

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