COVID-19 has reached Southwest Mississippi.
Mississippi State University officials said Thursday that an unidentified male employee of the Pike County Extension Service office in Magnolia tested positive for the coronavirus after leaving the office while feeling ill on Wednesday.
Additionally, state health officials confirmed one case each in Walthall and Wilkinson counties.
The Pike County case wasn’t listed on state health officials’ daily report of county-by-county cases of the virus at the center of a global pandemic on Thursday, but Health Department spokesperson Liz Sharlot said it would likely show up on the Friday report.
MSU Extension ordered the staffer and all associated colleagues to self-quarantine and the office is temporarily closed. It will be cleaned and disinfected.
Pike County Extension Service director Don Smith said Thursday afternoon that office staff were self-quarantining but he was unaware of the case.
As of Thursday, at least 21 of Mississippi’s 82 counties have confirmed cases.
Field Health System spokesperson Dawn Miley said the Wilkinson County patient who tested positive was not tested in Wilkinson County.
Patients can be tested anywhere and their results are reported to state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and associated with their home address, she said.
If a Wilkinson County individual tested positive in New Orleans, for example, that would still be listed as a Wilkinson County case.
Miley said the Centreville hospital has been performing tests on patients who are screened and meet specific criteria due to a widespread shortage of available test kits.
The best way to keep healthy is to wash your hands and stay home, she said.
“We don’t know a whole lot about it yet,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll all start to see cases pop up.”
Miley said people can access accurate information on the hospital website and Facebook page.
Mississippi also confirmed its first virus-related death, a patient in Hancock County.
The state had confirmed 50 cases as of Thursday morning, up from 34 Wednesday.
Officials have tested 602 patients. Cases increased in Louisiana as well Thursday morning, with officials identifying another case in nearby Washington Parish. Louisiana health officials have confirmed 347 cases and eight deaths in 805 lab tests.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves asked schools to stay closed until April 17 Thursday morning in a press conference and requested a disaster declaration by the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans to small businesses and nonprofit organizations severely impacted by the outbreak.
Officials in McComb are already seeing an increase in traffic to the hospital and are working to prepare for a surge, but Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center CEO Charla Rowley said in a statement Wednesday that there still aren’t any positive cases reported from the hospital.
“As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, we are seeing an increase in the number of people presenting with symptoms. We have tested 23 individuals for COVID-19. Nine of the tests have returned and fortunately, all results received so far are negative,” she said. “We hope the remainder continue to come back negative, but we are prepared in the event we do have a positive test.”
Rowley said the hospital makes patient safety the priority.
“If you are scheduled for tests or procedures in any of our facilities, rest assured that we are following all protocols to ensure a safe environment,” she said. “Please understand our stringent restricted visitor policy is for the protection of you and our staff.
“Patients who test positive for COVID-19 will be isolated and treated accordingly. Our outstanding medical professionals are following the evidence-based care protocols and continue to take appropriate steps to protect our patients, team members, and community.”
People who feel ill or are concerned they may have COVID-19 are to stay home and call the virus hotline at (601) 249-3627 for over-the-phone screening.
After McComb Mayor Quordiniah Lockley declared a state of emergency Tuesday night, he followed up that action Thursday by asking restaurants, bars and retail shops to voluntarily close or restrict the number of customers admitted to 10 or fewer and to encourage take-out or delivery services.
He also asked all gyms and event centers to close and private gatherings to cease. Lockley also asked citizens not to travel outside of city limits, citing an outbreak of cases in Jackson and New Orleans,
The Amite County School District canceled its April 4 prom Thursday morning, and Centerville Academy cancelled its 50th anniversary celebration set for the same day.
Parklane Academy officials, wearing gloves, were handing out textbooks and other classroom materials to students and thir parents in a drive-thru line on Thursday as the school prepared to go to online classes amid the uncertainty of how long the virus would keep the school closed.
While increasing measures to stem the coming tide and protect public health and safety, global statistics are encouraging.
For the first time since the outbreak, China reported no new or suspected cases in the city of Wuhan or Hubei Province, where the outbreak originated, on Thursday. But deaths from the virus surged in Italy, surpassing the total in China.
There’s been 227,754 documented cases of the virus worldwide, according to data from the World Health Organization. Of confirmed cases, 9,304 people have died, but 85,973 made recoveries. There are 132,477 actively infected patients, about 95% of whom are listed as being in mild condition.
The U.S., now seeing cases in every state and territory, has confirmed 9,486 cases and 155 deaths, with 108 patients recovered, and just 64 of 9,223 active cases listed as serious or critical.
The population density of countries like Italy, with lesser land mass, and China, where the majority of the population is jam-packed along the coast of the China Sea, probably contributed to the spread of the virus. The U.S. population is considerably less dense. U.S. cases have been confirmed at a rate of 29 per million people compared to 56 per million people in China and 591 per million people in Italy.
However, with limited testing, cases are likely under reported.
While the number of recoveries support some degree of optimism, the surge in fatalities in Italy — a country that was late to lock down its residents — highlights the importance of taking extraordinary precautionary measures before the bulk of cases spike in U.S. and overwhelm hospitals.