Gov. Tate Reeves announced on Tuesday that teachers and first responders in Mississippi will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination on March 1.

“This announcement marks a great milestone,” Reeves said at a press conference, “and it is exciting news for those who have been working hard to keep our schools open and our streets safe.”

He said that many appointments at the state’s drive-thru vaccination sites will become available tomorrow on the vaccine scheduling website, which is https://covidvaccine.umc.edu/. People can also book an appointment by calling 877-978-6453.

All employees in K-12 schools, in preschools and in childcare settings will become eligible for the vaccine in Mississippi on March 1.

First responders, another newly eligible group, include law enforcement, public safety, fire services and emergency management officials, according to the state’s vaccine scheduling website.

Those who are already eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in the state include health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, people at least 65 years old and people with certain medical conditions.

Reeves said that more than 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Mississippi. This number includes almost 350,000 first doses and more than 150,000 second doses, according to Dr. Paul Byers, the state epidemiologist.

Mississippi is also seeing improvements in COVID-19 case numbers. Byers said that the state has seen continued declines in COVID-19 cases and deaths. He noted, though, that the low case numbers reported last week and early this week may have been affected by less testing and reporting of testing last week. He said there could be a slight increase in the numbers of cases reported later this week.

“We’ll have to wait and see how that pans out,” he said.

Byers said Mississippi has seen improvements in other indicators as well. The number of emergency department visits for COVID-19-like illness has declined in Mississippi, and the number of nursing home outbreaks in the state has decreased.

However, Byers told people to continue to practice public health measures. He recommended that people continue to wear masks, practice physical distancing, avoid large gatherings and get vaccinated against COVID-19, if they are eligible.

COVID-19 case and death numbers reported on Tuesday

Mississippi reported on Tuesday 348 new cases of the coronavirus and 24 new COVID-19 related deaths, bringing the state’s totals to 291,222 cases and 6,577 deaths.

COVID-19 case and death numbers for local counties are listed below.

Lauderdale County: seven new cases; 6,735 total cases since March 2020. One additional death, which occurred between Jan. 27 and Feb. 15 and was identified from death certificate reports; 225 total deaths since March 2020.

Clarke County: three new cases; 1,676 total cases. One additional death, which occurred between Jan. 27 and Feb. 15 and was identified from death certificate reports; 71 total deaths since March.

Newton County: seven new cases; 2,225 total cases. No additional deaths; 51 total deaths since March.

Kemper County: one new case; 892 total cases. No additional deaths; 22 total deaths since March.

Neshoba County: four new cases; 3,746 total cases. One additional death, which occurred between Feb. 12 and 22; 166 total deaths since March.

MSDH presumed that 273,437 people in Mississippi had recovered from COVID-19 as of Feb. 22. The department also reported that there are 87 ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term-care facilities.

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