A spike in coronavirus cases is spreading Mississippi’s hospitals thin, but a local hospital official said Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center is weathering the storm.

“The last time I was here was at the end of March. There were 320 cases in Mississippi and only one death, and what a turn around we’ve had,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Richardson told the McComb city board on Tuesday. “This has been a tremendously busy time. ... Within the last few weeks, statewide, region-wide and locally, we have seen increased activity in hospitals.

“Pike County is really no different. We are seeing an upward trend, but we are not being overwhelmed. We have a strong ship.”

Richardson said state-wide about 40% of all ICU patients are COVID-19 related, but the hospital is not in that trend because it has intensive care units in the main building, as well as in the adjacent Mississippi Cardiovascular Institute.

Richardson said the hospital had 52 patients in its 160 beds and 17 of those patients are either confirmed or presumed to be positive for the virus. Of those 17, five were in intensive care, leaving 11 ICU beds free.

Testing, however, is another issue facing the state. Richardson said as of Tuesday, the hospital had administered 2,292 tests. The hospital does some rapid testing, but a majority of tests must be sent to private labs, delaying the results.

Of those 2,292 tests the hospital administered and sent off to a lab, 1,456 came back negative and 436 came back positive and the remaining 400 were pending.

The hospital completed 632 in-house rapid tests and 207 were positive.

The city also saw a large spike from Memorial Day and the 4th of July, according to a graph Richardson presented. He noted that this is one of the reasons age groups of patients are shifting from older, more vulnerable people to younger demographics such as 18 to 29 and 11 to 17.

“We are definitely seeing a shift in age groups,” he said. “It is a concerning trend because if you are sick enough to be admitted into the hospital, you are receiving high-level care, and we are seeing younger people requiring that.”

The New York Times recently reported per capita deaths in the McComb area were twice in the top 10  among American metro areas, ranking as high as third in the nation and at No. 9 on Wendnesday. The addition of 10 recent deaths pushed McComb’s rate to 19 people per 100,000.  

The Mississippi State Department of Health for the first time Wednesday released county-by-county data on the virus. For the week ending July 18, residents ages 18 to 29 had the most cases in Pike County, with 113. People in their 60s had the second most, at 100. There have been no deaths of those infected in the 18 to 29 age group, but 60-somethings have had the highest death rate in the county at nine.

State health officials reported 25 new cases in Pike County on Wednesday. One Tuesday, the county had a record-high one-day increase of 28 cases.  

Between early May and mid-June, the mortality leveled off at the hospital at a total of nine deaths, but in late June, the hospital saw a spike that doubled the death count in around three weeks, Richardson said.

Pike County has had 26 deaths from COVID-19, the most recent reported on Wednesday.

Richardson said it is true that testing has increased, but he said the number of positive tests increased as well

“More testing is being done, but more of them are positive. This is a reality we are all dealing with,” he said.

Richardson said Mississippi is on a trajectory to have more deaths per capita purely because of common underlying health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

“If they have better control of their blood sugar, the mortality rate is cut in half, and that is also true of blood pressure,” he said. “This virus is not going away, and the way we can prevent those morality numbers from rising anymore is by helping patients to be as healthy as possible ahead of time.”

Mayor Quodiniah Lockley asked Richardson about the significance of face covering, and Richardson said they are integral to keeping the spread down.

“Within the medical profession, there is no debate. It is absolutely the right thing to do,” he said of wearing a mask, adding that he wears a mask from the moment he leaves his home to the moment he gets back. “Our tools are so limited and we need to focus what we have. If there is anything we can do to help decrease the spread we need to be doing it.

“There are no doctors debating masks. It is mostly politians,” he said.

Another important issue Richardson brought up is that SMRMC developed a website and app for patients to get their coronavirus test results as quickly as possible.

“You will get your results as quickly as we do,” he said of the app which will be available soon by visiting FollowMyHealth.com.

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