Just one week into the school year, more than 20,000 public school students in the state of Mississippi are quarantined after COVID exposure. The state health department confirmed that during the first week of school, 4,521 students contracted COVID, and the total number of students who have been infected with the virus since the beginning of August is now nearly 6,000.

The number of students quarantined makes up 5 percent of the state's public school students, per NBC News. A total of 1,463 teachers and staff have contracted the virus since the beginning of August—with 948 contracting it during the first week of school.

Mississippi and Alabama currently have the lowest number of fully vaccinated residents out of all 50 states, with less than 36 percent of the population fully vaccinated. Earlier this week, it was reported that more than 5,000 Florida students in the Tampa area are currently quarantined due to COVID exposure as well. In both Florida and Mississippi, masks in school are optional for students. In Mississippi, at least two teenagers have died of the virus since July. According to The Washington Post, Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs believes that due to the highly contagious variant and the low vaccine numbers in the state, this is the lowest point of the pandemic. "We are clearly at the worst part of the pandemic that we've seen throughout, and it's continued to worsen," Dobbs said at a news briefing. "We're seeing higher and higher numbers of not just cases but hospitalizations, people in intensive care units, life support. And sadly, as we've seen, additional deaths are going to follow. Without a doubt we have surpassed our previous peaks by a substantial margin, and we expect to see that continue." Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves has stated that he believes mask mandates are "foolish" and "harmful." The Post also reports that Gov. Reeves told reporters last week that it's "very rare that kids under the age of 12 have anything other than the sniffles" when they contract COVID. Currently, Mississippi's children's hospitals are seeing the highest number of pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.