Pike County tallied a fifth coronavirus death this week Wednesday as the county made the top 10 list of most infected per capita in Mississippi as infections continue to surge throughout the state.

Health officials have identified 466 infections and 17 deaths in the county since the outbreak was first detected in the state on March 11.

Officials at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center  reopened the drive-thru cough and fever clinic on Rawls Drive amid skyrocketing demand for COVID-19 testing. The hospital had closed it in May.

“I think everybody knows that it’s out there, they just think they’re not going to catch it,” SMRMC Infection Preventionist Tammy Bacot said.

The decision to reopen the drive-thru clinic was to ensure the emergency room staff, who were conducting all coronavirus testing in the meantime, are able to complete their typical duties.

Bacot estimated that there are about 10 cars in line at the cough and fever clinic at any given time, but said the hospital has plenty of supplies to meet the testing demand.

One aspect of the testing process hospital officials cannot control, however, is how long it takes results take to return from commercial labs that account for the vast majority of COVID-19 testing in the U.S.

“We are at the mercy of the lab that we send them out to,” Bacot said.

Some commercial labs such as LabCorp and Quest report backlogs of 40,000 to 80,000 tests nationwide.

The test itself takes almost no time, and analyzing the test can be done increasingly quickly as well, but there is an apparent bottleneck at large testing facilities. That is extending wait times for patients to receive their results, Bacot said.

“Most people use the same large labs,” Bacot said. “If you’re in Biloxi, McComb or Tupelo, you likely use the same lab.”

When all is working perfectly, test results can come back to physicians within a few days or even a few hours in some cases. But some patients recently tested have noted longer-than-anticipated wait times.

“We’re seeing a massive increase in demand for testing,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Wednesday.

After testing, positive results are reported by commercial labs to the State Department of Health. The results are communicated to a handful of nurses throughout the state, who are in charge of notifying infected patients and giving them relevant medical advice.

“By far, the majority of those who test positive do not need to be treated in the hospital,” Bacot said.

Patients who test positive for coronavirus at SMRMC will be contacted by the hospital in addition to receiving notification from the state.

Dobbs said the increase in infections doesn’t correlate to increased testing, which is lower now than it was two months ago, but that people are physically spreading the virus more often.

And important to note is that many of those who seek testing at the cough and fever clinic in McComb may actually be tested and treated for another respiratory illness, such as pneumonia, bronchitis or strep throat.

Of the five Pike County residents who died this week, three were residents of long-term care facilties, according to state health data. Another was former Pike County jail administrator Glenn Green. Information regarding the fifth death wasn’t immediately available.

Pike County was included on the Department of Health’s daily list as having the 10th-highest number of infections per-capita in the state, with an rate of 101 per 100,000 people.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves moved to again restrict elective medical procedures at Jackson-area hospitals in anticipation of emergency rooms there becoming overwhelmed.

“Ambulances have to turn around because the hospital they are taking you to does not have room,” Reeves said. “Our death numbers have gone up significantly in the past two days.

Statewide, health officials identified 674 new infections and 30 deaths Wednesday afternoon. Walthall County added another death, for a total of seven, and 208 infections identified since the outbreak began.

The number of members of the Mississippi Legislature who tested positive for coronavirus following a recent legislative session increased to 26, Dobbs said.

“It doesn’t matter what the words on the page say if the people of Mississippi don’t adhere to them,” Reeves said. “The virus is in your community.”

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