Although COVID-19 case numbers continue to remain relatively low in the Hattiesburg area, Mayor Toby Barker is reminding residents to remain vigilant in the face of news of a possible fifth wave of the virus that has surfaced in other parts of the country.
In a Nov. 24 video address, Barker said that wave is hitting areas where a majority of people have been vaccinated – such as Montgomery County, Maryland, where approximately 80 percent of residents are vaccinated, and Vermont, where 75 percent are vaccinated.
“It’s not because the vaccine doesn’t work, but it’s been so long since people have had their second dose that we’re starting to see some of the ability to fight off and resist COVID start to wane,” Barker said. “After six months, especially with Pfizer and Moderna (vaccines), the ability to resist COVID starts to kind of go down.”
To remain safe going into the remainder of the holiday season, Barker is urging residents to get vaccinated, or to receive their booster shot if it has been six months since the second dose. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer booster shots for anyone over the age of 18; Hattiesburg Clinic began administering those on Nov. 23.
“I got mine this morning and feel just fine,” Barker said. “The reason this is important is, a lot of the people that were the first ones to go get their shot earlier this year – people with underlying health conditions, people who are seniors over 65 – it’s been six months since that’s occurred.
“They’re about to start seeing a lot of family at these gatherings – Thanksgiving and Christmas – and you want to make sure you protect those. Getting the booster raises your ability to fight off COVID-19, or at least fight off serious illness from COVID-19, even more than you had with your second dose.”
Booster shot availabilities can be found by calling Hattiesburg Clinic at (601) 261-1620 or by visiting the Forrest County Health Department online at www.covidvaccine.umc.edu.
“We’re going to continue stressing this throughout the holidays, because we don’t want a repeat just because we took our eye off the ball,” Barker said. “We’re getting to over 45 percent, 50 percent (vaccination rate) in Forrest and Lamar counties, and that’s a big deal, but if we don’t go ahead and get that booster, you might start seeing some higher hospitalizations come the holidays.”
On the day of Barker’s address, Forrest County saw six new cases of COVID-19; Lamar County saw 10 new cases. Eight people were hospitalized with COVID; two of those individuals were in the Itensive Care Unit.
The “inside 14-day” number – which indicates the number of individuals who have received a positive COVID diagnosis in the past two weeks – was at 140 for Forrest County and 63 for Lamar County, for a total of 203 in the Hattiesburg metropolitan area. Those numbers are up slightly from the week prior to Barker’s address, when the inside 14-day number was 130 in Forrest County and 58 in Lamar County, for a total of 188 in the metro area.
“That’s not too bad, but something to keep our eye on as we go forward,” Barker said.
There was one new COVID-related death in Forrest County as of the Friday before Barker’s address, bringing the total number of deaths in that county to 259 since March 2020. Lamar County has seen 140 COVID deaths during that time.