State officials begged Mississippians to follow simple health and safety guidelines to slow the rapid spread of coronavirus Wednesday afternoon, the same day the state was poised to reopen.
But plans changed.
“Things are getting worse, not better,” Gov. Tate Reeves said. “It’s not that our current rules are too loose, our challenge is that our people aren’t following even the simplest of rules.”
State health officials identified 653 new infections and nine deaths Wednesday afternoon. The statewide total since March 11 is now at 27,900 infections and nearly 1,100 deaths.
Pike County is also experiencing a surge in cases. It recorded another 11 infections Wednesday for a total of 367. Officials noted the 12th death in the county and the first in over six weeks on Tuesday.
Despite rising cases throughout the state, Reeves said Mississippians are acting selfishly by exposing others to unnecessary risk and exacerbating the numbers of the critically ill and the dead.
“Additional rules are pointless if people won’t follow what we have in place right now,” he said. “We need more cooperation, not more mandates. We need people to re-engage in the mission.”
The most pressing risk associated with coronavirus in Mississippi is that hospitals are already stressed and they will soon be overwhelmed, Reeves said. At that point, people will not be able to receive routine or emergency medical treatment in many cases.
“Across this country, COVID-19 cases are rising and they are rising fast. It’s definitely happening here in Mississippi and we all must be on guard,” Reeves said. “Our healthcare system is at risk.”
The Clarion-Ledger reported that patients with severe injuries were turned away from Jackson area emergency rooms because those facilties were either at or exceeding capacity.
Officials at Baptist Medical Center in Jackson were reportedly forced to divert ambulances from their emergency room because of a lack of capacity in their critical care unit, and the ICU at University of Mississippi Medical Center has apparently been full since February.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned that Mississippi hospitals could find themselves in the same position as hospitals in New York did at the peak of the crisis there, with emergency room patients lined out on the street and semi-trucks converted into makeshift morgues for the innumerable dead.
“This is not a hoax,” Reeves said. “It is a danger — it is an imminent threat.”
Mississippi recorded more new infections than New York state for two straight days.
“The age group with the most new cases is between 20 and 29,” Dobbs said. “This is people out and about in their hometowns.”
Dobbs said the counties along the Gulf Coast are now experiencing a severe surge in infections.
“We have to have perpetual diligence,” he said. “It’s very simple, if we can maintain the small things — masks and six feet from other people — we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
The rate of hospitalization in Mississippi is increasing significantly, Dobbs said. With 768 patients being treated in a hospital on Wednesday, the state reached a new milestone.
Reeves said everybody needs to take Dobbs’ advice seriously.
“His warnings to the public and to us have been very graphic, and I believe them — we all need to believe them,” he said.
Reeves expressed immense frustration and asked Mississippians to consider the health and safety of others.
“Wear a mask, avoid large crows, please do not throw needless parties,” he said. “Please just try — do anything at all.”