TUPELO • Northeast Mississippi now has its first presumptively confirmed case of the new coronavirus following a Monday morning announcement by the state Health Department that a Monroe County resident has tested positive for COVID-19.
The statewide total of presumptive positive cases identified through testing has now grown to 12. The other case announced by the Health Department Monday is a Pearl River County resident.
A previous presumptive positive reported as a Pearl River case has now also been reclassified as a Hancock County case.
In Monroe County, officials are working on a response to the discovery of a coronavirus case in the local community.
“We’re working on a plan now. For the past little bit, we’ve all been 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.
And in Tupelo, the senior leadership of the North Mississippi Health System is taking steps to handle the influx of potential coronavirus cases, while warning that without successful mitigation efforts, healthcare resources could be severely stressed.
“Our best offense right now is prevention,” said Shane Spees, the president and chief executive officer of NMHS. “We are focused on prevention and containment.”
But effective prevention and containment will require broad participation in communities across the country. The ultimate goal is to prevent a sudden spike of cases that require some level of medical attention, pushing isolation gowns, gloves, masks, negative pressure rooms, intensive care beds and medical staff to the limit, said Jeremy Blanchard, the NMHS chief medical officer.
“If the community responds well by washing their hands, by social isolation, we should have our resources to manage over a longer period of time,” Blanchard said. “If they don’t do that well, then our surge will overwhelm us in some resource.”
Nationwide, medical and public health experts have warned that the United States does not have the capacity to absorb the hospitalization rates that could be seen if COVID-19 ultimately infects significant portions of the American population.
“The impact of a COVID-19 pandemic on hospitals is expected to be severe in the best of circumstances,” warned a document compiled by the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Currently, US hospitals routinely operate at or near full capacity and have limited ability to rapidly increase services.”
The virus COVID-19 has now been identified in seven Mississippi counties, including in the Northeast region, the Delta, the Coast, the central region in and around Hattiesburg, and in Hinds County, where Mississippi’s largest metro area is located.
Of the total cases, there are two residents in Copiah County, three residents in Forrest County, one resident in Hancock County, two residents in Hinds County, one resident in Leflore County, one resident in Monroe County and two residents in Pearl River County.
“Right now, Mississippi is experiencing low level community transmission most likely,” said state Health Office Dr. Thomas Dobbs in a Monday press briefing.
Community transmission means at least some Mississippians are likely spreading coronavirus locally, as opposed to contracting the virus while traveling elsewhere.
The University of Mississippi announced on Monday that a student there has tested positive for COVID-19 while traveling abroad. The student is not a Mississippi resident, and did not return to Oxford or the university campus following her international travel.
The university has also ended domestic travel for all university-related trips for the time being.
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton also issued an emergency declaration for the city on Monday. The declaration did not put any new restrictions in place for local organizations or businesses, but it would allow the city to possibly receive federal or statewide funds and resources in the future, according to Shelton.
Gov. Tate Reeves also signed a pair of executive orders on Monday related to the coronavirus pandemic. One order activates the National Guard as may be needed to support the creation of mobile testing sites across the state.
Another order directs state agencies to designate essential employees while sending all other staffers to work from home. The governor encouraged other private businesses in Mississippi to do the same.
“This is really about protecting Mississippi’s most vulnerable. Even if you are healthy, you need to protect your friends and neighbors,” Reeves said.
Daily Journal reporter Taylor Vance contributed to this report.