Thursday, March 19, 2020
The message out of the University of Mississippi Medical Center Wednesday was grim. “We are ramping up all of our contingency planning to be prepared for a tidal wave of patients that we know is about to hit us,” UMMC Department of Emergency Chairman Dr. Alan Jones warned.
Jones and other UMMC leaders addressed the Mississippi public at a sobering, no-holds-barred press conference about the rapid spread of COVID-19 they foresee in Mississippi. Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at UMMC led the press event, streamed for reporters practicing social distancing.
“Community spread has started,” Jones said.
That means that, as the Mississippi Department of Health warned days ago, new cases are expected to come from within the state itself. Travelers returning from Florida and then North Carolina brought the earliest cases back to Mississippi.
“Reports that we’re getting from our surrounding areas, such as New Orleans, (show) very rapid increases in the number of cases—and not just cases, but the number of critically ill patients associated with those cases,” Jones warned.
COVID-19 Now Confirmed in 21 of 82 Mississippi Counties
Wednesday, March 18, was another day of dawning realization as to the severity of COVID-19. March 19 brought 16 additional presumptive confirmations of COVID-19 in Mississippi, bringing the state total to 50. Mississippi has presently tested 602 individuals for COVID-19.
MSDH updates to its website today. It also indicated that Pearl River and Harrison counties now have the most State-reported cases at seven each. Hinds County today remained unchanged with six cases reported.
As Wednesday came to a close, Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba took another decisive step toward arresting the spread of the novel coronavirus in the capital city, signing an executive order that formally bans all gatherings of more than 10 people. The new restrictions are not a suggestion, but a legally binding mandate. Per Mississippi Code Section 45-17-9, individuals who violate the gathering restrictions will be prosecuted on misdemeanor charges.
The need for social distancing to flatten the curve is having a strong impact on local businesses and, by extension, employment. Mangia Bene restaurants fully closed its three popular restaurants—Bravo!, Broad Street Bakery and Sal & Mookies—Wednesday afternoon to ride out the crisis, calling all employees in to take whatever food supplies they wanted in the afternoon.
“We have tried to modify our service each day, to meet the public health needs of our community,” co-owner Jeff Good wrote in a public post on Facebook. “We are all believers that the only way to quell the coming storm is to follow the directions of our public health government officials. #flattenthecurve is a real phenomenon that can and will save lives. We get it, and we just didn't see how we could still prepare food and deliver it to you curbside, since by definition we were not practicing any social distancing and had many folks involved in the make, bake and take process.”
Good added: “I just could not see a way where the two could co-exist: serving people as customers and serving the people I work with. Doing one impacted negatively the other.”
This morning, Gov. Tate Reeves announced plans to sign an executive order to keep all Mississippi public schools closed though April 17. “This is probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make,” Reeves said.
The governor assured Mississippians that teachers will receive pay, testing standards will be relaxed, and that the State will continue disbursing Mississippi Adequate Education Program funds.
U.S. Government Not ‘Cavalry Coming to Help Us’
UMMC’s press conference was a straightforward plea for Mississippi to take seriously the virulence of COVID-19 and the limitations of the health-care system.
COVID-19 has arrived in Jackson. As the nation grapples with the extent of the crisis, the legislature and most business are shutting their doors. But there are vital steps individuals can take to protect themselves and their communities.
“Some of the reasons that you are being asked to alter your lifestyle—to stay at home, to socially distance, to not go to restaurants, (to) keep kids out of school, all these things that have disrupted our life—are not aimed at preventing, per se, people from getting the virus, because we know people are going to get the virus. It’s a very effective virus,” Jones said Wednesday.
“It’s really to give health care a fighting chance,” the doctor said of social distancing and self-quarantine. If we don’t do these things then we will have a situation where the ability for us to care for any patients will be hampered. Jones added that “we have precious few health-care providers, we have precious few PPEs (personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves) that we can use. We need to conserve those resources the best we can.”
“The supply chain and the availability of PPE are one of our top issues,” Woodward explained. Both the state and federal government are unlikely to assist in the delivery of additional PPE, she told the press. “We don’t see that as the cavalry coming to help us.”
Later Wednesday on Fox News, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar acknowledged that point, confirming that little in the way of stored PPE equipment was available from the federal government, saying that the states had to find the equipment themselves.
“We have a strategic national stockpile,” Azar said. “But that’s for like a hurricane, a small dislocation.”
Read breaking coverage of COVID-19 in Mississippi, plus safety tips, cancellations, more in the JFP's archive.
Elsewhere in the country, critical shortages of protective equipment are already hitting the medical community. Critical-care personnel are beginning to fashion makeshift face masks and other equipment out of unrelated office and medical supplies. The lack of proper supplies for frontline health-care providers threatens their ability to contain the virus to the patients they care for.
Lack of testing supplies has also been a challenge in fighting the spread of the virus. To that end, Woodward said, UMMC is working to develop its own in-house test for COVID-19.
“We are bringing the full force of all of our resources to bear on our research side,” Woodward told the press. “We anticipate in the next two weeks that we will have that capability in-house, because as many of you are aware, we do have limited testing available across the country.”
Extensive testing has proved to be the only effective barrier against the spread of the virus in hard-hit areas like China and South Korea. An in-house test for patients admitted to UMMC would partially alleviate the shortage of testing kits that presently forces the State Public Health Lab to selectively process test results from across the State.
Read the JFP’s coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. Read about announced closings and delays in Mississippi here. Read MEMA’s advice for a COVID-19 preparedness kit here.
Email information about closings and other vital related logistical details to [email protected].
Email state reporter Nick Judin, who is covering COVID-19 in Mississippi, at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nickjudin. Seyma Bayram is covering the outbreak inside the capital city and in the criminal-justice system. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @seymabayram0.