By Leah Willingham,
Associated Press/Report for America,
The Mississippi State Department of Health is now blocking comments on its Facebook posts that relate to COVID-19 because of a “rise of misinformation” about the virus and vaccinations, a health official said.
“The comments section of our Facebook page has increasingly come to be dominated by misinformation about COVID-19,” state health department spokesperson Liz Sharlot said in a statement.
Sharlot said allowing the comments that “mislead the public about the safety, importance and effectiveness of vaccination” is “directly contrary” to the state’s public health mission, which includes encouraging members of the public to be vaccinated against the virus, which has been recently making a resurgence in the state.
Only about 31% of Mississippians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a statistic that ranks near the bottom of U.S. states.
The Department of Health posts multiple times each day on its Facebook page about COVID-19. Posts include information on numbers of new coronavirus cases in the state, details on pop-up vaccination clinics and transportation services to vaccination clinics for homebound residents.
Sharlot said the comments will be back when the department has “the resources to effectively curb misleading, harmful and off-topic commentary that disserves the public.” Federal regulators have said the vaccines are safe and offer strong protection against contracting the potentially life-threatening disease.
Mississippi health officials announced on Friday that they are recommending that people 65 and older and those with chronic underlying medical conditions refrain from attending indoor mass social gatherings in the coming weeks because of a rising number of coronavirus cases in the state.
State officials have also advised in the last week that vulnerable people should avoid indoor mass gatherings whether or not they are vaccinated, through at least July 26, and that people who are not vaccinated should wear a mask when in public settings.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs cited a sharp increase in cases of the highly contagious delta variant, which is now the predominant strain of COVID-19 in the state.
Dobbs tweeted Tuesday that 12 children were in an intensive care unit with the delta variant, with 10 on ventilators.
“Delta Surge — be careful,” he wrote.
On June 21, 91 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Mississippi. On Sunday, that number had risen to 228 people, according to health officials.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists