Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center officials told the McComb city board Tuesday that the hospital has an adequate supply of ventilators but is limited on COVID-19 tests and personal protective gear.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kevin Richardson addressed the board with the update, using a slide show to give data and information regarding the state of the hospital's supplies and background on the virus.

Richardson said one of the most important things he wanted to stress to the board was that the hospital is doing very well in some regards but lacking in others.

The hospital’s supplies of ventilators specifically are above the curve with 17 total and six in use a day but, like most of the nation, officials are more worried about personal protective equipment supplies like masks and gowns.

“We actually have enough to get by now. We know everything is on allocation. We don’t have closets full of these items, and when they are gone, they are going to be gone,” Richardson said.

Richardson said local churches and businesses helped the hospital with homemade masks and gowns. He also said though the masks are not as effective as medical-grade models, they still block droplets and particles if made from certain materials such as cotton.

“It seemed unthinkable weeks ago that you would ever get pillows, pillowcases and cotton T-shirts and make your own masks, but I can tell you that respectable hospitals nationwide are doing this,” Richardson said. “We actually have had some of our church groups in town make masks for us that we are going to have on back up. The day will come when we will run out of masks and gowns and gloves.”

Richardson also said doctors around America found a way to hook two patients up to one ventilator, effectively doubling the number of ventilators the hospital can use.

“We are not going to be above this,” Richardson said. “We are going to look into this, train our respiratory technicians, and if we are ever at the point where our ventilator collection is not adequate, we can double it.”

Richardson wanted to make it clear that this is a serious situation. He showed infographics to the board about the rate of confirmed cases.

“We are seeing every two to three days a doubling of our patients affected,” Richardson said, adding that China was in a similar situation but leveled out after about a month. “That upward trend is what we are seeing in the United States.

“This upward trend that is being seen worldwide is what is being seen in Mississippi right now, and we need to be alert, aware and on top of it.”

He also said the medical community wants to reduce the rate of doubling from two-three days to five-10 days, so they can have more time to react.

Richardson said though the hospital’s supplies of medication are good now, it will experience shortages eventually as the crisis continues. “We haven’t faced that yet, but we are preparing for it,” Richardson said. “Not medicines for coronavirus but just regular medications. That is something we are staying on top of, and we want to have all of the evidenced-based medicines on hand.”

Richardson said although some of the hospital’s issues seem critical, everyone in the hospital is doing their part to help during the outbreak. He said the hospital has plenty of beds, but eventually will have the same problem as other hospitals across the nation.

“We only have 2.8 beds hospital beds per 1,000 people,” Richardson said. “Our whole nation is preparing to struggle as it never has before.”

Richardson stressed that most people who get the virus do not need a hospital stay, but for those who do the treatment is not extremely complex. There is no special medication needed to deal with the problem. Patients just need a ventilator when applicable, time and careful monitoring.

“The way to save people's lives from this virus is to put them on ventilators when necessary,” Richardson said.

He said people over the age of 55 are the most vulnerable, and the older a patient is, the more at risk for further complications.

“The age group distribution that many of you have seen is shifting toward senior,” Richardson said. “Originally, we were having more of a flat distribution, and now there are more individuals in their 50s, 60s and 70s that are testing positive in Mississippi today compared to earlier in the week.

“The number for everyone to remember is that if you are over 55, 20% of patients are going to require coming into a hospital. Five percent of patients are going to need to be on a ventilator, which many of you heard about are coming in short supply nationwide.”

Richardson emphasized the infection rate to death rate is not as bad as over diseases like SARS or Ebola. But Richardson said the virus should be taken seriously.

“We are having a patient die of this virus in the United States about every 30 minutes,” Richardson said. “We are taking it very seriously.”

America is the third most impacted country globally, and Richardson said it is about two weeks behind Italy, so health officials have watched Italy’s progress and made adjustments accordingly.

Richardson said the hospital is in a good place with testing kits. As of Tuesday, it tested 74 patients, with only one positive case, 22 negative and 51 that have not been returned. The hospital has 181 tests left.

“That’s not that many, honestly, but the tests have been limited until recently,” Richardson said. “We are fortunate right now that we have a supply of approximately 180 tests, and it was due to some foresight from our lab director to order some additional tests because some hospitals do not have tests at all.”

Richardson stressed the need for people to watch for symptoms and isolate themselves if needed. He said the hospital opened up a coronavirus hotline — 601-249-DOCS (3627) — where someone will talk a person through the symptoms and recommend coming for testing or staying at home accordingly.

The hospital has also taken other measures such as beginning “telemedicine,” appointments made through video calls, and the hospital has ended all patient visitation until the outbreak has calmed down.

Richardson said now is not the time to visit sick people.

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