Jackson • State agencies are preparing for the possibility of a Mississippi outbreak of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, which has so far killed nine people in the United States, all in Washington State, and most at a nursing home in suburban Seattle.
The number of infections in the U.S. overall climbed past 100 Tuesday, scattered across at least 15 states, with 27 cases in Washington alone.
“What is happening now in the United States may be the beginning of what is happening abroad,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noting that in China, where the outbreak began more than two months ago, older and sicker people are about twice as likely to become seriously ill as those who are younger and healthier.
The Mississippi State Department of Health can now test for COVID-19, according to MSDH Communications Director Liz Sharlot.
Physicians and healthcare providers have been alerted and will follow a certain protocol before submitting samples that include symptoms, travel history and exposure to an infected individual.
The Mississippi Department of Education released guidelines to school districts on Tuesday outlining prevention and preparation measures in the event of a local outbreak of COVID-19.
MDE created the guidelines with input from the Mississippi Department of Health, the state epidemiologist, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Though the risk to Mississippi is currently low, basic infection control should always be promoted and maintained, and schools need to be prepared in the event of a local illness outbreak,” state superintendent Dr. Carey Wright said. “The MDE will continue to work with state and federal health officials and leaders to support the health and well-being of students, school and district employees, and communities.”
The guide includes information on personal protection and hygiene and links to information from the CDC. It also instructs schools to consult with their county health department and MSDH to determine when it is appropriate to close a school.
There are currently no cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi or surrounding states.
In the nation’s capital, officials moved on a number of fronts Tuesday.
A bipartisan $7.5 billion emergency bill to fund the government’s response to the outbreak worked its way through Congress.
The Federal Reserve announced the biggest interest-rate cut in over a decade to try to fend off damage to the U.S. economy from the factory shutdowns, travel restrictions and other disruptions around the globe. On Wall Street, stocks rallied briefly on the news, then went into another steep slide, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 785 points on the day, or 2.9%.
“We have seen a broader spread of the virus. So, we saw a risk to the economy and we chose to act,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said.
Also, the Food and Drug and Administration sought to ease a shortage of face masks by giving health care workers the OK to use an industrial type of respirator mask designed to protect construction crews from dust and debris.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill expressed skepticism about U.S. health officials’ claims that testing for the new virus should be widely available soon. CDC test kits delivered to states and cities in January proved faulty.
Authorities have said labs across the country should have the capacity to run as many as 1 million tests by the end of the week.
But testing so far has faced delays and missteps, and “I’m hearing from health professionals that’s unrealistic,” Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state said at a Senate hearing.
The chief of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn, said the FDA has been working with a private company to get as many as 2,500 test kits out to labs by the end of the week. Each kit should enable a lab to run about 500 tests, he said. But health officials were careful about making promises.
“I am optimistic, but I want to remain humble,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC.
MDE’s guide with information about COVID-19 is posted at https://www.mdek12.org/COVID19 and will be updated as new information becomes available.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.