As the United States surpassed 100,000 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday grim news reverberated locally. Pike County saw a slight uptick in infections over the past week just as Mississippi surpassed the mark of 300 new infections each day for the first time since the outbreak began.
“This thing is not even remotely over, sadly,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Thursday afternoon.
Adding just two cases Thursday, Pike County stands at 203 infections and 11 deaths since March 11. Neighboring Lincoln County, where health officials have identified 250 cases, reported its 23rd and 24th deaths.
“We’re closer to 300 cases per day rather than the 200 number, where we’ve been for some time,” Gov. Tate Reeves said.
Pike County saw an increase of 17 infections from the week prior, the first uptick in the weekly trend identified since peaking on the week of April 16-22 with 56 new infections.
Some of the marked increase in trending infections statewide is caused by nursing home infections, but community members blatantly disregarding public health guidelines is mainly to blame, Dobbs said.
“Certainly, I think some of it is increased testing in the nursing homes,” he said. “But I think it also speaks to ongoing transmission. ... It’s still out there.”
Despite the increase in transmission throughout the state and in Pike County, all businesses are allowed to open up on Monday morning with minimal restrictions.
Reeves urged caution and personal responsibility.
“I want to thank the people of our state. We by-and-large are seeing good compliance,” he said. “Think about not only what is in your own self-interest but also what is in the interest of your family and your friends or your neighbors.”
State guidance indicates business owners must “deep-clean” their establishments “from top to bottom,” which McComb Zoning and Planning Code Compliance Officer Henry Green said means nothing more than wiping down all tables, chairs and employee work stations.
In addition to the deep clean, the guidance stipulates that business owners must disinfect the entire building after cleaning and sanitize all surfaces once every two hours.
Despite the precautions described by the executive orders on reopening businesses, there is effectively no enforcement of those rules at the local level, Reeves said, adding the personal responsibility of business owners should be sufficient.
Law enforcement officers are only actively enforcing guidelines on south Mississippi beaches.
Dobbs said if transmission does not decrease quickly statewide, some counties may see enhanced restrictions imposed to slow the spread. He implored residents of lesser-affected counties to stay vigilant in preventing the spread of the virus.
Dobbs said that while the use of ventilators hasn’t risen lately, “we’ve seen an increase in utilization of hospital beds and emergency room beds.”
“You can’t go back to normal — what you have been doing has been working so, congratulations, keep it up. But don’t let your guard down,” he said.
State health officials also are working with managers of long-term care facilities to allow visitation to residents who have been effectively isolated from friends and family since March, Reeves said.
He provided no timeline for that decision to be taken but expressed his intent to make it happen as soon as it’s possible to be done safely.
“It’s one thing to text them or call them and tell them we love them,” Reeves said. “It’s another thing to tell them in person.”
Reeves also noted a new epidemiological study in the journal Science that suggests keeping a six-foot distance from others, in line with World Health Organization guidance, may be completely insufficient — particularly indoors. The study found that viral aerosols can remain suspended in the air for hours longer than was previously understood.
“Try to stay eight-feet apart,” Reeves said.