After several weeks of flat or lower numbers of positive coronavirus infections, state health officers are now concerned that numbers are trending back up statewide. “All the indicators are starting to turn in an unwanted direction,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, State Health Officer said in a Zoom press with local media on Monday.
In Scott County the positive numbers of the virus continue to be fairly low, a trend that both Forest Mayor Nancy Chambers and Lackey Memorial Hospital CEO Sydney Sawyer, RN, have attributed to the wearing of face masks and social distancing. However, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers reminded citizens Monday that “just because we are in a county where there is not a lot of activity, it doesn’t mean there is no Covid here. All it takes is large gethering to bring the numbers back up.”
“Last week we had a pretty significant increase in the number of reports we received, we do think this represents increased transmission in the community,” Dobbs said of the statewide gain. “We’re seeing ongoing increased hospitalizations...we’ve had a significant increase over the course of a week. Over the weekend we had six major hospitals that have no available ICU capacity. It’s a good time to redouble our efforts and make sure we are doing those simple things that we know prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, whether its wearing a mask — we know how important that is — especially when you are in close proximity or indoors, staying away from folks at least six feet, avoiding large gatherings, and if you are going to do something do it outside preferably in small groups, and remember hand hygiene.”
As of Tuesday’s daily report from the Mississippi State Department of Health there were 713 new cases reported statewide that day and 14 additional deaths bringing the running total since March 11 to 105,941 positive cases and 3,115 deaths. Scott County has reported 1,202 positive cases since the pandemic began and 29 deaths.
Dobbs also announced a new program to help those with chronic health conditions, or over the age of 65, to better protect themselves and others in the upcoming election.
“For people who are going to vote, and we know there will be vulnerable people who will be going to the polls,” Dobbs said, “and to provide some added protection, we will be giving away surgical masks, a little bit more health care quality masks, along with a face shield (attached). Individuals with a chronic health condition or over 65 we will have free mask with a face shield available for you so that you can vote and be safer in the voting process.”
Individuals that will be eligible for the free masks and shields are:
• those over 65 years of age,
• those with diabetes
• those with hypertension
• those with cardiovascular disease
• those with renal failure
• those with obesity
• those with a weakened immune system
• those with cornic lung disease
“These are conditions that we know increase the risk of severe illness or death from coronavirus,” Dobbs said. The masks will be available at the drive thru testing locations. “If you have any of these conditions you can drive up and pick up a mask,” he added. “Check our website and find a location to go in and receive a mask.” That website is www.msdh.ms.gov.
Dobbs and Byers agreed that the state is still seeing a lot of cases in the younger age groups especially college age and younger but that there is no immune age group.
“We’re also seeing a lot in the older groups especially those individuals age 50-64 years of age,” Byers said. “We don’t want you to focus on an age group and think that if you are in one particular age group that you are more protected or less likely to become infected because we haven’t seen a lot of infection in that particular group. We need to stay the course across the board...use a mask, stay more than six feet apart, limit gatherings...if we continue to do things like that we can bend that curve back down to where we want it.”
Byers said that a number of counties throughout the state are starting to see increases and that is another indicator of more community transmission, but both men said that increased numbers have not been tied directly back to gatherings like high school football games. There have, however, been numerous outbreaks among football teams around the state Byers said.
In conclusion, Dobbs encouraged churches and businesses to require masks even though there is no longer a statewide mandate to do so. “I do think we’re on the front end of something that could be bad,” Dobbs said. “We may head back to having more mandatory masks if we can’t do it voluntarily. So if we can do things voluntarily I think that makes so much more sense.
“We just want everybody to wear a mask in public, not only for yourself and also for the people you love. It’s really kind of baffling why it is such a big deal, it is such an easy thing to do and it adds benefits to our safety, it allows us to keep schools open, allows us to keep hospitals from overflowing, allows us to visit people in nursing homes. It is just mind boggling why it has become such an unnecessary controversy.”