Gynell Hughes of Amory walks down the paper product aisle of her hometown’s Food Giant last Friday, shortly after a new shipment of toilet paper arrived. Fears surrounding the coronavirus caused a surge of toilet paper and cleaning supplies sales across the nation. As far as her take on the coronavirus, Hughes said, “It is what it is.”

The ripple effect of the COVID-19 strain of coronavirus, a certified global pandemic originating in China last December, reared its ugly head last week. From a presidential order to halt United States travel to and from Europe for 30 days and professional sports leagues halted their seasons to Mississippi universities extending spring break, the reaction to the virus has been unprecedented.

As of early March 16, Mississippi had 12 cases in that people tested positive for coronavirus, with one case being from Monroe County. No further details were released by the Mississippi Department of Health Services, but reports indicate the patient is a Tronox employee.

“We’re working on a plan now. For the past little bit, we’ve all be doing extra cleaning in all the offices, but now we’re going to put together a plan,” said District 1 Supervisor Joseph Richardson. “One thing we’re going to ask is if you have any symptoms, don’t try to do any county business like get your car tag.”

He added the Monroe County Courthouse in Aberdeen has had its doors kept open to avoid people from touching door handles.

“We’re looking at having some additional things in place, which may include having some skeleton crews in place to run things and making sure we give people adequate time off to make sure they don’t have any symptoms before coming back,” Richardson said.

Other cases were reported in Forrest, Pearl River, Hinds, Copiah, Hancock and Leflore counties.

According to information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were between 36 million and 51 million United States cases of flu illnesses reported from Oct. 1, 2019 to March 7. The data included 370,000 to 670,000 hospitalizations and between 22,000 and 55,000 deaths related to the flu.

As of March 16, the CDC reported 3,487 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. with a total of 68 deaths.

Here at home

The scheduling of a few planned events has changed due to coronavirus. The 45th Annual Aberdeen Pilgrimage, planned for the first weekend of April, is postponed, and the 42nd Annual Amory Railroad Festival is postponed. Both committees were scheduled to meet after press deadline, and more details will be announced in the March 25 edition of the Monroe Journal.

Other events include the Monroe County Republican Women charter dinner planned for March 16, a watch party for the previously scheduled March 20 Mississippi State/LSU baseball game hosted by the Monroe County chapter of the Mississippi State University Alumni Association, the Junior Women’s League’s Easter egg hunt planned for March 21 and North Mississippi Medical Center Gilmore-Amory’s Baby and NICU Reunion originally planned for March 28.

A benefit fundraiser for Aberdeen’s Acker Park previously planned for April 3 has been rescheduled for the summertime as a precaution.

The Lenten luncheon series in Aberdeen and Amory are cancelled for the rest of Lent. Bingo at American Legion Post 26 in Aberdeen is cancelled until further notice.

The Monroe County Extension Service sent a press release stating all Extension offices will remain open, and basic operations will continue until further notice.

Out of precaution of coronavirus, the Aberdeen, Amory, Monroe County and Nettleton school districts, along with Oak Hill Academy, extended their spring breaks for the entire week.

On Saturday, school districts first announced students would return to school March 18, before Gov. Tate Reeves declared a state emergency recommending schools to remain closed for the week.

Following a national state of emergency declared March 13 by President Donald Trump, visitation at all senior care centers is halted.

A testing center for patients identified as at risk for coronavirus has been set up through North Mississippi Medical Clinics at an undisclosed location for patient privacy purposes and to prevent unnecessary exposure. It is not open to the public but rather available by referral only.

North Mississippi Health Services began restricting visitation and congregating at its hospitals, including North Mississippi Medical Center Gilmore-Amory.

All of Monroe County’s senior care centers were already taking precautions to safeguard their residents. Oak Tree Manor in Amory, for example, halted outside entertainers and is advising family members to go to only their family members’ rooms. People who have been out of the country recently were asked to refrain from visiting for 14 days, according to administrator Teresa Childers.

According to Care Center of Aberdeen Administrator Allison Knight, there is only one point of entry, and a health screening point is in place. Every time an employee enters, even coming back from lunch breaks, he or she will be screened.

Lann Chemical in Aberdeen provides cleaning supplies to industries, schools, health care facilities and restaurants throughout North Mississippi, northwest Alabama and a small section of Tennessee.

“Our number one thing is taking care of all of our existing customers. When they ordinarily buy 20 but they’re asking for 200, we have to ask if they need it or are they stockpiling? You have to turn business away, but we’re helping as much as we can,” said Lann Chemical General Manager Steve Gaskin.

He said disinfectants and gloves are high-demand items but from the industrial side, toilet paper is still plentiful.

“When people are at home more like during spring break, summer vacation and Christmas, our toilet paper sales are down and Walmart is booming. We’ve seen no problem getting it, and it’s not from China. Most is made at Georgia-Pacific and Kimberly-Clark in the U.S.,” Gaskin said.

From a broader prospective

Last week, Mississippi Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley of Nettleton sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission to intervene on behalf of Mississippi customers ordered to work from home or students who will transition to online classes due to COVID-19. It asked for the FCC to remove data plan caps, prevent customers from receiving overage charges on their plans and prohibit companies from throttling, or reducing internet speeds due to increased usage, according to a press release.

“Many consumers have no other option than to utilize their mobile devices for internet services, both through the use of their devices by themselves and by utilizing them as mobile hotspots to use with other technology,” Presley said in the letter. “They should not be penalized for doing their jobs or furthering their education due to these unforeseen changes that are outside their control. The digital divide is real and these steps will greatly help those affected by it.”

On March 15, the Mississippi Public Service Commission approved to temporarily suspend disconnections to water, sewer, electricity and gas services for 60 days as a response to Reeves’ state of emergency. Customers should still pay outstanding and current bills during that time.

According to a press release from the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), physicians may now submit COVID-19 specimens to the Mississippi Public Health Laboratory or commercial labs without prior consultation with MSDH, which will streamline necessary testing as much as possible.

MSDH is expanding recommendations for long-term care visitors and mass social gatherings, advising limits on visitors to nursing homes and similar facilities, and discouraging gatherings of more than 250 people where there is evidence of coronavirus transmission, especially for those who are older or with health conditions.

According to a statement on the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency’s Facebook page from its director, Greg Michel, the agency moved to a level one activation in response to the virus to ensure its emergency support function are in place to assist the MSDH. MEMA made preparations to coordinate with county emergency management agencies to address needs.

Monroe County EMA Director Donna Sanderson has been in close communication with both MEMA and MSDH regarding coronavirus.

As part of a spending package passed by Congress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide Mississippi with $5,874,995 to help fund measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Media comments from local hospitals have been referred to the MSDH, which continues to send regular updates through press releases.

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