Laurel Leader-Call Report by Jack Hammett, April 8, 2020 at 2 p.m.
Outbreak likely to worsen, doc says
Five employees from South Central Regional Medical Center have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least two of them contracted it while at work.
Dr. Mark Horne, chief medical officer at SCRMC, said discussions with the employee patients suggested three of them were infected outside of work. Even though SCRMC employs 2,100 people, there is still a concern nationally that enough health-care workers could become infected to cause a shortage.
“Because COVID-19 is spread by people without symptoms, it does raise that concern,” Horne said. “We’ve been diligent for weeks, and as soon as we knew it would be a problem several weeks ago, we started working on how to protect our staff, putting the right policies in place, giving out personal protective equipment and training everyone.”
Mississippi lags behind other states at about 2,000 cases and more than 60 deaths. But that doesn’t mean the situation can’t rapidly change.
“There’s always the risk of encountering someone we don’t know who has COVID-19,” Horne said. “By keeping people out, we reduce the number of people who might expose our staff.”
Previously, the hospital began screening visitors by asking questions related to virus symptoms and taking temperatures.
The Mississippi State Department of Health recently rolled out new self-protection guidelines for essential workers and businesses, recommending all medical workers wear face masks. Cloth masks should be washed and reused, according to a press release, as personal protective equipment remains “a vulnerable resource.”
The MSDH recommends that Mississippians wear locally-made, non-medical masks when leaving home for essential shopping. This doesn’t include manufactured or N95 masks, which are to be reserved for medical workers and first responders.
The coming weeks
The next few weeks may be the most difficult in Mississippi and the rest of the country.
The latest projections from the MSDH suggest Mississippi’s confirmed cases will peak sometime later this month, “over the next two, no more than three weeks.”
“We have a good idea based on models, but it’s being adjusted because the situation is changing,” Horne said.
“It could be sooner or later, but we believe it will be near the last two weeks of April,” Reeves said. “That is why we’ve held this shelter-in-place order to this critical period.”
The shelter-in-place executive order, enforceable by law, is set to go on until April 20 but may yet be pushed back.
“We get to individually change that model,” Horne said. “We get to have an effect on how severe the outbreak is by following guidelines of social distancing, washing hands, wearing cloth masks in public. If we do what we’re supposed to, we can lessen the severity of it and get back to normal life more quickly.”
As the pandemic grows and businesses temporarily close their doors, unemployment in Mississippi will continue to rise, according to Reeves.
“Unemployment is going to get worse before it gets better, just like COVID-19 and the deaths associated with the virus,” he said.
Reeves said Mississippi will soon reach “peak resource use” and that the state will run out of hospital beds. Camp Shelby is now being outfitted to hold 200 more patients.
There is some good news to be found in all this, Horne said. As the case number rises, the Jones County community has donated masks and other personal protective gear.
“We’re so grateful,” Horne said. “We’re so proud of how our employees have responded to this situation. There’s no way to get rid of all the risk, but they keep coming to work and taking care of sick patients knowing that risk, and that shows how much they care.”