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Welcome to The Public Health Connect, Mississippi Public Health Institute's new monthly newsletter. 

Each month, we'll update you on what we're working on, provide statewide updates on public health trends and policy, and invite you to connect with us about your public health projects and needs. If a friend or colleague forwarded you this email, please subscribe below. We hope everyone is staying safe through Hurricane Ida. 
COVID in Mississippi — worse than ever before
As of last week, Mississippi is currently experiencing the worst COVID-19 wave in the country — with more daily cases than ever before and the most new cases per capita in the U.S., but the second to last vaccinated rate among adults (47%, only behind Alabama). But, there's a silver lining in the case surge — after a summer slump, weekly vaccination totals are at their highest point since April, which Dr. Thomas Dobbs projects will help decrease case and hospital trends soon

Too, hospitals are overwhelmed — only 12% of ICU space is available in the state (but better than last week's 6% availability). UMMC opened two field hospitals this month to help with patient overflow and administer monoclonal antibody (MAB) infusion for COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 Data Dispatch does a great job analyzing trends and breaking down data reporting resources, as agency and academic reporting continually evolves with the pandemic. 

Last issue, we highlighted MSPHI's community-based intervention efforts to get more Mississippians vaccinated in order to help cap the Delta variant spread. As public health practitioners, it's vital to understand our audiences and communicate accordingly. As our targeted community efforts continue, and as this 'Pandemic of the Unvaccinated?' Not Really, Advocates Say piece reminds us: unvaccinated folks are not a monolith and should not be painted with broad strokes — many have been underserved by traditional health outreach, lack health and news literacy, or have other barriers to preventive care. 
"Our community-based efforts are key because we have found that residents of communities trust those whom they know best, rather than strangers. Friends and family members who work with our grants serve as trusted messengers and can provide encouragement and information to those considering vaccination. This is particularly important right now while Mississippians are in midst of a dire COVID-19 wave."

- Jacinda Roach, MSPHI Programs Officer

Though breakthrough cases among vaccinated people are on the rise (remember, as STAT reminds us: "vaccines are wondrous weapons, but they aren’t impenetrable armor."), cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still overwhelming clustered among unvaccinated people. Getting more shots in arms is our most effective tool at curbing Delta's spread, and protecting our vulnerable populations and hospital systems.  

MSPHI expands SUD prevention work
Our collaborative interdisciplinary work to curb ongoing SUD overdoses and connect those in need to community resources is in full-force. Overdoses in Mississippi, and across the U.S., have exploded during the pandemic — with Mississippi seeing a 26% increase in the 12 months ending in May. Our ongoing intervention efforts dovetail education, prevention and treatment programs across the state: 
  • Overdose Data to Action CDC grant focuses on the complex and changing nature of the drug overdose epidemic and highlights the need for an interdisciplinary, comprehensive, and cohesive public health approach to use surveillance data in order to drive prevention. We're working on the ground with:
    • Aaron E. Henry FQHC, locations across the northern Delta - coalition building, needs assessments 
    • DeSoto County Sheriff's Department - department-wide training in SUD interactions and treatment opportunities 
    • Coastal Family Health Center FQHC - treatment navigation for pregnant and parenting women
    • Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health, Jackson metro - prevention policy brief 
    • YMCA, Rankin County - after-school prevention programming 
    • Tishomingo County - school and workplace stigma reduction campaign 
  • SAMHSA State Opioid Response (SOR) grant with Department of Mental Health and the Mississippi State Department of Health builds upon the grant's initial focus on first-responder naloxone distribution into a first-of-its-kind state opioid response plan focused on policy changes needed to prioritize prevention, treatment and recovery. 
"Through collaboration, we have begun to plan across agencies to begin the development of a Statewide Collaborative Plan that delineates how each partner is attacking SUD, gaps and barriers, and ways that the partners can work together to accomplish our goals. It has given us a chance to utilize grant funds to provide extensive training across agencies, particularly in the area of prevention.  Prior to these partnerships, it was difficult to define what real change should look like."
- Jan Dawson, Substance Use Disorder
Program Director
The initial catalyst to bring all the necessary state stakeholders together began with the formation of the Mississippi Opioid and Heroin Data Collaborative, featured in our May newsletter. Formed in 2018 through a grant secured by the MSDH, this interdisciplinary team also  includes the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, the Mississippi Board of Pharmacy, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and, now, the Mississippi Public Health Institute — we currently assemble reporting from each of these agencies into a single report utilized across the state, advancing our goal to drive collaborations that support and promote public health, and help advance public health in Mississippi.

Public health news across Mississippi

  • White House Vaccination Coordinator Visits Jackson (WLOX, 8/24/21): The White House Vaccination Coordinator spent Tuesday in the Capital City talking with public health officials. Dr. Bechara Choucair said the federal government has set up “surge response teams” in over 16 states – including Mississippi – to help respond to rising cases.
  • Ocean Springs Physical Therapist Beth Edmiston Appointed to State Board of Health (MSDH, 8/10/21): Elizabeth Edmiston of Ocean Springs, Miss., has been appointed by Governor Reeves to complete the six-year term of Ed Langton on the Mississippi State Board of Health. Langton resigned from the Board earlier this year. Edmiston’s term ends June 30, 2023.
  • Mississippi offering Covid vaccine booster doses for immunocompromised people (NBC News, 8/5/21): Mississippi, with one of the highest new Covid-19 case rates and lowest rates of vaccinated people in the U.S., is encouraging booster doses for some high-risk groups. The Mississippi State Department of Health is now advising that doctors consider a booster or third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine for people with weakened immune systems, including organ transplant patients and people taking immunosuppressive medications.
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