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Coronavirus update: What you should know now

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The coronavirus has world economists in a panic, especially as the number of cases balloon in China and around the world.

Apple has warned that iPhones could become scarce, and other businesses with critical supply chains in China are ringing alarm bells as well. Cruise operators and airlines are taking a big hit as are credit card companies and health insurers.

Monday, the Dow closed down more than 1,000 points, the biggest drop in more than two years, and today’s market was almost as bad with the Dow down another 879 points. Similar tumbles have occurred in both the Nasdaq and S&P 500.

What’s the current situation on the coronavirus?

Countries were the coronavirus has been confirmed (source: CDC)

Three dozen countries around the world have now confirmed cases of the coronavirus, called COVID-19. In the past 24 hours, three countries were added to the list: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq and Oman.

With just over 80,000 cases, the epicenter of the disease remains in China, where more than 77,000 cases have been reported and 2,666 people have died.

Outside of China, 2,459 cases have been confirmed and 234 deaths.

In the U.S., 53 cases have been confirmed, but no deaths. Another 10 cases have been confirmed in Canada.

The World Health Organization says the risk of the disease spreading globally is high.

How will this affect the U.S.?

U.S. Health officials warned Tuesday that Americans should prepare for “significant disruption” to their lives as a result of the virus, saying it’s not a matter of if, but when it spreads further, as the disease is highly contagious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is saying Americans should avoid any non-essential travel to China or South Korea. Further, the CDC strongly advocates simple anti-virus hygiene: frequent hand washing, staying home when ill and so forth (see below).

State and local governments and businesses should prepare in the event face-to-face interactions need to be reduced. Those preparations might include having employees work from home and instituting tele-schooling. Health care facilities should be prepared to increase telehealth systems and delay elective surgeries should the need arise, ABC reports

Messages from the Trump administration are mixed. Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said Tuesday the threat to the U.S. from coronavirus “remains low.” Meanwhile, the White House is seeking $1.25 billion in emergency funding to combat the virus.

How can I avoid getting sick?

Individual risk is dependent on exposure. The CDC says that for the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.

Nonetheless, there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, and it is highly contagious. The risk of a global pandemic is high.

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The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. Avoid travel to China and South Korea and avoid interacting with people who have recently traveled there.

The CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • CDC does not recommend that well people wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

What are the symptoms of COVID 19?

The CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

For confirmed COVID-19 cases, reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. About 14% of sufferers, generally older people and those with already-compromised immune systems, develop pneumonia and become very ill, while about 2% of sufferers will die. Also, some people exposed to the virus may not get ill but could still be infectious.

The rate of death for COVID-19 is currently considerably lower than that of deaths from influenza and pneumonia, which is around 14% in the U.S. and 23% in Mississippi.

Symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

For more information, visit the CDC website and the WHO website.

Also, see our previous story on the issue, Coronavirus: What you should know.

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Free helpline available for Medicare beneficiaries

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Leaders of Merit Health River Region recently announced the availability of a toll-free helpline designed to help Medicare beneficiaries select a health plan that fits their needs and budget.

The free helpline connects callers with licensed agents who can assist in comparing traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Supplement and Prescription plans, and then facilitate enrollment in the plan selected. Through this program it will be easier for Medicare beneficiaries to find a plan that is best for them during Medicare annual enrollment from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. Licensed insurance agents are available at no cost or obligation to help consumers find a Medicare plan that meets their health care needs.

Local consumers can access the helpline at 855-583-2003, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT, or online at www.medicarecompareusa.com.

“Consumers are bombarded with confusing messages from competing health plans and options — and this is especially true for those just turning 65 and becoming eligible for Medicare for the first time,” said Ben Richaud, chief executive officer of Merit Health River Region. “This helpline is a one-stop resource for insurance information, so individuals can be confident in the selections they make.”

MedicareCompareUSA is dedicated to helping consumers make this important insurance decision.

Not owned or managed by any Medicare insurance company, MedicareCompareUSA’s mission is to provide individuals the unbiased information they need while simplifying the enrollment process.

In addition to providing assistance throughout the plan application and enrollment process, agents of MedicareCompareUSA can provide an annual review of an enrollee’s Medicare coverage during Medicare’s enrollment period. This often includes assisting members affected by Medicare plan network changes that sometimes occur. Doing so assures that beneficiaries have the information they need to proactively select a plan that best meets their specific needs, preferences and budget.

Richaud points out that Merit Health is not in-network with all insurance options or health plans, and contractual relationships may change over time. If a patient enrolls with a health plan that does not include the hospital in the network, their care and relationships with their doctors could be affected.

“Members of our community have been entrusting us to be their health care partner for many years, and that’s a responsibility and honor we don’t take lightly,” Richaud said. “This helpline will help those on Medicare make an informed decision regarding their insurance options at this important time in their life. We urge all eligible consumers to take advantage of this free service.”

Traditional Medicare and the Medicare Advantage plans offered by Allwell, Cigna, Clover Health (new in 2021), Humana, Magnolia, Shared Health (new in 2021), United Healthcare and WellCare all allow consumers covered by these plans full access to in-network medical care and procedures at the Merit Health hospitals and employed physician clinics.

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MSDH Office of Tobacco Control receives two awards for smokefree efforts

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The Mississippi State Department of Health’s Office of Tobacco Control received two awards from the American Nonsmoker’s Rights Foundation: the Smokefree Air Challenge award and the Smokefree Air Challenge E-Cigarettes award.

The awards were presented at the ANR annual Smokefree Indoor Air Challenge and Voices for Smokefree Air awards ceremony.

The virtual awards ceremony was established by ANR to acknowledge and recognize states that excel in passing 100% smokefree provisions in workplaces, restaurants and bars. Mississippi has 171 smokefree cities with the passage of comprehensive smokefree air ordinances, 137 of which have ordinance that include restrictions on electronic cigarettes.

“The smokefree air policies implemented by these cities will protect all employees and customers in businesses and other public places from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke,” said Amy Winter, director of the Office of Tobacco Control at MSDH. “There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”

In 2019, 14 Mississippi cities passed comprehensive smokefree air ordinances. At this time, 36% of Mississippi’s population is protected from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke and e-cigarettes.

“The adoption of these smokefree air ordinances by cities across Mississippi is an important step in improving our state’s overall health status,” Winter said. “We hope this activity at the local level demonstrates the widespread public desire for a comprehensive statewide policy.”

For information and resources about the dangers of e-cigarettes and tobacco products, visit www.healthyms.com/tobacco. For help with quitting visit www.quitlinems.com, or call the Mississippi Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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MS Health Department emphasizes importance of flu vaccines

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(Photo by by LuAnn Hunt from Pixabay)

Seasonal influenza vaccinations are now available for children and qualifying adults at all Mississippi State Department of Health county health departments. Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months old and older as the best protection against the flu.

“We recommend that all Mississippians get their flu shots every year, but especially this year with COVID-19. We don’t want to risk overwhelming our hospitals,” said MSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers in a statement.

Byers said flu season can occur as early as November and as late as March in Mississippi, but usually peaks anywhere from December through February.

Individual flu cases are not reported to MSDH, but the agency monitors flu activity through the ILI System, made up of health care providers in Mississippi who report the percentage of patients with flu-like symptoms to a statewide database. Providers participating in the system also submit respiratory samples for flu testing to the MSDH lab. State health officials use this information to determine the presence and spread of flu throughout the state.

“We recommend getting vaccinated now before we reach peak flu activity. Influenza vaccine is especially important for young children, pregnant women, those over 65 and those with underlying health problems,” Byers said. “Flu vaccination is the best way to protect both children and adults from serious complications such as hospitalization, and in many cases, death.”

Those 18 and under who are eligible for the Vaccines for Children program can receive a flu vaccination for $10. Insurance, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program is accepted for children’s flu shots. A list of all VFC providers can be found at www.HealthyMS.com/vfc.

Adults who are underinsured or uninsured and who meet certain high-risk criteria qualify for an adult flu vaccination at MSDH county health department clinics. Flu shots for insured adults are now widely available through private physicians, pharmacies and retail centers.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle and body aches and fatigue. Most people recover from the flu without complications, but nationwide there are up to 200,000 hospitalizations from flu each year.

While vaccination is the best protection, basic infection control measures can also reduce the spread of flu and should be taken whether individuals are vaccinated or not. These measures include covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing, staying at home when you or your children are sick and washing your hands frequently. Wearing a face covering in public places offers additional protection against the flu.

Please call your local county health department to make an appointment for your vaccination.

For Vicksburg and Warren County residents, the Warren County Health Department is located at 807 Monroe St. in Vicksburg, and it is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 601-636-4356 for more information.

To locate other county health department clinics or for more information on flu, visit the MSDH website.

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