The Mississippi State Department of Health issued an alert on Friday ordering any coronavirus-positive individuals to isolate for at least 10 days or face up to a 5-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $5,000.
The isolation order comes amid surging COVID-19 cases in Mississippi, as the 7-day average for new cases in the state reached 4,316 on Friday, nearly double the highest point during the second wave in January, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Friday's order, issued by State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, says that anyone "infected with COVID-19 must remain in the home or other appropriate residential location for 10 days from onset of illness."
Failure to obey the isolation order could results in a fine of $500 or imprisonment for six months. However, since COVID-19 is a life-threatening disease, those potential punishments go up to $5,000 or five years in prison or both, Dr. Dobbs wrote Friday.
Mississippi hospitals currently have more COVID-19 patients than at any other time in the pandemic, as 1,660 patients were hospitalized, 457 were in the ICU, and 324 were on ventilators on Wednesday, according to state health data.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state's only Level 1 trauma center, announced Friday that it will require all staff and students to be vaccinated. It's an about face for the hospital, which previously said employees and students could skip being vaccinated if they wore N95 masks.
"COVID-19 in Mississippi is a raging wildfire but not everyone is helping throw water on the flames in their own backyard," Dr. Alan Jones, University of Mississippi Medical Center’s associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, wrote in a letter Friday to staff and students. "We – as an institution and as the workforce for the state’s leading health system – need to be a leader in this fight."
Mississippi currently has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, as just 45.1% of the population have received at least one dose and 36.8% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.