The Department of Health is seeking an external review of the response to COVID-19

How well did Mississippi respond to the COVID-19 pandemic? The health department is hiring an outside contractor to answer this question.

The contractor, set to begin work in early November, will conduct interviews with people involved in a wide range of pandemic response efforts, from contact tracing and testing for COVID to hospital operations and public information. They will prepare a “follow-up report” that will reconstruct and analyze Mississippi’s response — including how well state and local agencies followed emergency response plans — and offer suggestions for improvement.

Just under 13,000 Mississippians have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to health department data. Nearly 900,000 cases have been registered in the state.

In the first year of the pandemic, Mississippi was often one of the first states to loosen restrictions on masking and crowds in public. Months after Gov. Tate Reeves rolled back the state’s mask mandate as cases surged during the delta wave, he called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to mask indoors “stupid.”

Mississippi has the highest number of deaths per capita of any state in the country, with 427 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the New York Times. The national average is 311.

A report by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund released in June ranked Mississippi’s response to the pandemic last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Mississippi scored particularly poorly on premature deaths from treatable causes — ranking 51st — and employee out-of-pocket medical costs.

Mississippi also saw the nation’s highest percentage increase in drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

The report, prepared for the health department, will take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of the agency’s response to the pandemic. The analysis will answer questions including:

  • “What happened? What should have happened based on current plans, policies and procedures?
  • Was there a difference? What was the impact?
  • Do plans, policies and procedures support activities and related tasks?
  • Are MSDH respondents aware of these documents?’

Mississippi Today has reached out to the health department for comment but has not yet heard back.

According to the request for proposals, the state recently held feedback sessions with regional health management team members. The results of these sessions will be shared with the contractor selected to write the report.

The 59-page request offers insight into the scope of the state’s response to the pandemic, which includes thousands of people working in the health department, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the State University Extension Office of Mississippi, the Board of Animal Health, the National Guard and the Department of Environmental Quality, as well as private contractors.

The state operated 916 testing sites as of April 7, 2022, and processed over 3,200,000 PCR tests as of the end of April.

The contract will run through early November 2023, but can be renewed by the health department for an additional year.

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