JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) held a news conference on Wednesday, December 29 to discuss the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the majority of cases are due to the omicron variant.

“We’re in the midst of a peak of transmission that we’ve never seen, most likely, this whole pandemic,” stated Dobbs.

The state health officer said people who test positive or are exposed should take precautions and quarantine for at least five days, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He also encouraged Mississippians to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as a booster shot.

According to Dobbs, most monoclonal treatments are not effective against the omicron variant. Last week, the omicron variant accounted for around 13% of all samples sequenced in the state, up from around 8% in the previous week.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said there has also been a rapid growth in the number of COVID-19 cases at nursing homes across the state. Sixty-three outbreaks were reported on Monday at nursing homes, nearly twice the number of nursing home outbreaks reported in the state last week. On Wednesday, MSDH reported 130 outbreaks at long term care (LTC) facilities in Mississippi.

“We really are in the fifth wave now of COVID for Mississippi,” Byers said.

Byers also said he anticipates the cases will go up once students return to class from their holiday break. Most of the COVID-19 cases reported in Mississippi are in younger people in the age range 25 to 39, according to Byers.

Jim Craig, senior deputy for the Mississippi Department of Health and director of health protection, the shortage of health care workers continues to be a concern for health officials. Lack of staff prevents hospitals from opening all available beds to treat patients.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for our smaller community, county hospitals to transport patients to some of our larger centers. … It all plays back to the staffing issue,” he said.

Health officials said Tuesday that 48% of Mississippi residents were fully vaccinated, and 29% had received a booster shot. About 63% of people nationwide are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

With the surge in new virus cases, there has also been a surge in demand for testing. Dobbs said the state is expanding the number of available testing sites, and asked residents to be patient.

The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure (Board), along with MSDH, is facilitating immediate access to two medications that can aid in the treatment of COVID-19.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) of Paxlovid1 and Molnupiravir2 as oral antivirals for patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. The Board believes granting immediate access to these antivirals, as well as any others for which the FDA issues EUAs for the treatment of COVID-19, is appropriate.

Mississippi is scheduled to receive a limited supply of these antivirals this week, according to a notice from MSDH.

“Mississippi is facing unprecedented medical situations as we continue in the fight against COVID-19,” said Dr. Kenneth Cleveland, Executive Director. “It is necessary that our Board remain flexible in dealing with these situations.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.