Wilkinson County is the 10th smallest county in Mississippi, but it is one of only two counties with more than one recorded death due to COVID-19, and one of 15 counties with any confirmed deaths.
As of Wednesday, Wilkinson County had 16 cases. Marshall County, four times the size of Wilkinson, had one fewer case at 15, with no deaths. Marshall neighbors DeSoto County, which had 84 cases and only one death.
Centreville Mayor David Owens said there have only been two cases in his town since the outbreak started and no deaths, so he believes the town is doing well.
“That would leave about 12 for Woodville and the rest of the county,” Owens said. “We’ve been lucky so far. It is not too bad. It ain’t good, but ain’t too bad.”
Owens, 86, said he is afraid for his own life due to the virus, and he is following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control. As of Tuesday the city was not mandating CDC guidelines but did recommend residents follow them.
“I’m afraid for myself,” Owens said when asked if he is worried about the virus and the city.
Centreville falls on the line of Wilkinson and Amite counties. Amite County, which has a population of 12,447, has had four cases and one death.
Owens said there are two places where people congregate, both gas stations between Woodville and Centreville, but Centreville’s aldermen have not decided to take action to break the gatherings up.
Owens said he and the city’s aldermen closed town hall, which handles bill payments, and the police station in response to the virus, but the city has not taken stronger actions than that and recommending CDC guidelines.
Residents can still pay bills using a drop box.
“If it gets real bad, our board will mandate something,” Owens said.
Woodville Mayor Keshia Stewart Ford said her city, like Centreville, has closed city hall and made bill dropoffs available, but residents can also pay their bills online. She said the virus is a serious problem not just for her city but also for the entire county, state and country.
She said there is no way of knowing how many cases or deaths are truly in the county, and she is working hard to help her city by enacting an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, along with mandating the CDC social distancing and crowd limit guidelines, enacting a state of emergency and stopping the disconnection of water meters for delinquent bills.
“I’m trying to stop the spread, but I am just struggling countywide to get people on board,” Ford said. “There are no orders or mandates from the county yet.”
Ford said she is proud that the majority of people in her city have followed the mandates in place, but a lack of enforcement in other parts of the county could undo everything her city is working toward.
Chad Netterville, chief executive officer of Field Health System in Centreville, said the reason Wilkinson County was hit so hard is it has a high population of older and less healthy people, which puts many of the residents in the high-risk category.
“Great community down here, but we fit the mold the virus is attacking,” Chad Netterville said. “Age and disease is a risk factor, and we in Wilkinson have an older and unhealthier population, and I think that is attributed to those deaths.”
Netterville said the hospital set up a drive-through clinic for those with symptoms matching the virus and has asked residents to postpone doctor’s visits and handle prescription refills over the phone until the virus has settled down.
“It took a week longer than we anticipated for levels to drop off,” Netterville said of the number of visits they were getting. “I think our folks in the community were delayed a week before they really responded to the social distancing recommendation, but the community is responding now.”
Netterville said it is up to not only the hospital, but also the community to stop the spread of the virus. He said the hospital’s effort is to protect their staff and the community and educate them about the guidelines of the CDC.
“As far as the hospital healthcare providers go, we are doing what we can do, but it becomes a community effort,” Netterville said. “You’re dealing with a highly contagious virus and the only way to combat that is to limit physical interactions.”
Netterville said he understands the community’s instinct to come out and help in times of need, but coming into contact with someone with the virus is the easiest way to spread the disease.