New inmates at Adams County prison cause record COVID-19 spike

Published 3:25 pm Thursday, May 13, 2021

NATCHEZ — On Tuesday, Adams County set a new single-day record of 65 new COVID-19 cases reported, based on data from the Mississippi State Department of Health. The old record of 32 new cases in a single day was set on Jan. 8 and tied on April 28.

The county also broke its record of new cases reported in a seven-day period with 228 new cases reported between Wednesday, May 5, and Wednesday, May 12. Norman Williams, a volunteer COVID-19 statistician for Adams County and Concordia Parish, said the prior seven-day record was set between Jan. 5 and Jan. 11 with 135 cases.

Health department officials said the majority of these cases have been reported at the Adams County Correctional Facility near U.S. 84, which holds U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency inmates.

According to MSDH, 238 COVID-19 cases are associated with Adams County Correctional Facility outbreak between April 1 and May 12.

Dr. Paul Byers, state epidemiologist, said COVID-19 cases were identified in new inmates at the time of their arrival.

“The vast majority of the cases that we’re seeing in Adams County have been associated with the correctional facility,” he said. “We are reporting new cases from the correctional facility. Some of these that we are reporting are cases that occurred two and three weeks ago, so not all of them are new cases but we are aware of an ongoing increase in cases at the correctional facility.”

Byers said the COVID-19 spike at the prison has not resulted in an increase in community spread.

“What we’re not seeing is an increase in transmission within Adams County and an impact on other facilities in Adams County. What we are seeing is an identification of cases in detainees who are brought newly into the facility who are identified at the time they arrive as new cases. We’re not seeing transmission at the community level within Adams County,” he said.

Southern Region Communications Director Bryan Cox of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and Adams County Correctional Facility Warden Shawn Gillis did not respond to calls and messages requesting comment for this story.

In the week of April 20 to May 3, Adams County had the sixth-highest incidence rate — cases by population — of any county in the state with 97 new cases, according to graphs from MSDH.

The total number of cases in Adams County since last year now stands at 2,868 cases with another 22 cases added Wednesday.

As of May 7, four variant cases have been identified in Adams County, including two of B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the United Kingdom, one of the B.1.427 variant first seen in California, and one of the P.1 variant first seen in Japan and Brazil, according to graphs from MSDH.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is easing indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks inside in most places, the Associated Press reports.

The new guidance was announced at the White House on Thursday.

The CDC guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but could ease restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools.

The CDC no longer recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, said, “We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”

The more people get vaccinated, the faster infections will drop and the harder it will be for the coronavirus to mutate enough to escape vaccines, according to health experts.

This move comes as nearly half of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of vaccine and coronavirus cases are at their lowest rate since September. Nationwide deaths are also at their lowest point since last April.