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Mississippi still tops nation’s new COVID-19 infection rate despite improving statistics

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Mississippi this week took over the nation’s highest infection rate after hovering in the top several states for weeks.

Almost all of Mississippi’s daily COVID-19 metrics have improved over recent weeks but so have other hot-spot states that drove summer surges.

On Tuesday, Mississippi averaged 29 daily new cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days, or about 6,000 weekly cases total. Though both the daily case average and total weekly cases have fallen in recent weeks — daily case counts have dropped by almost half since they peaked almost exactly one month ago — they still top the U.S. per capita. By Thursday, North Dakota overtook Mississippi based on a recent influx of new cases.

Further, Mississippi now sees the nation’s fourth-highest infection rate per capita since the pandemic began, according to national data collected by the COVID Tracking Project. Mississippi has now surpassed states that had early, large surges but have since flattened out, such as New Jersey and New York that held top spots until recently.

Mississippi is now only behind Louisiana, Florida and Arizona for cumulative cases per 100,000 people.

Hospitalizations in particular have seen major improvements over the past weeks, seeing the first steep decline since the pandemic began and hitting their lowest point this week since early July.

Dr. Alan Jones, who oversees University of Mississippi Medical Center’s COVID-19 response, says the lull is welcome, but it’s not enough yet and warns Mississippians and policy makers alike to maintain the progress made.

“What the medical community is holding its breath about is, we are seeing a reprieve, but we have schools re-opening, colleges going back, we have football games starting to take place, we have more travel, people going back to work, Labor Day is coming up,” said Jones, assistant vice chancellor for clinical affairs. “We are all kind of holding our breath. A good two to six weeks after (re-openings), we believe we’ll see those numbers go back up in the wrong direction.”

He says the simple measures that went into place over the past month — masking and reinforced social distancing — are now showing up in lagging indicators, like hospitalizations. But now, more than ever, is the time to stay vigilant, he said.

“If we can have policy makers continue to be resolved in seeing it through to the end — and not say, ‘Well, its been better for two weeks, so we’re going to lift the mask mandate, or we’re going to allow (larger) gatherings.’,” Jones said, hospitalization improvements might prolong. He added he hopes for hospitals’ sake that policy makers continue to be “extra cautious” and “extend those things that are in place where the Band-Aid’s already been ripped off, until we truly are seeing sustainable or lower transmission, and we do believe that the pandemic is under control enough where you can begin to relax.”

He added: “And then when you do relax things, don’t go from closed down to wide open in a matter of days — gradually lead back into things such that you have effective behavior that will be maintained.”

Like hospitalizations, deaths also reflect case trends from previous weeks. Though they’ve declined since peaking in late July, Mississippi still has the most new deaths per capita and the eighth-most deaths overall in the U.S.

Despite improvements, hospitalizations are still tight across the state. Last week 15 hospitals had zero ICU space available — meaning, of Mississippi’s hospitals that have ICU beds, 30% were full. Before the pandemic, ICUs across the state averaged about 66% capacity. Three-fourths of all hospitals were above that average as of last week, according to Mississippi Today’s analysis of the state health department’s new hospital capacity tracker, and 84% of all ICU beds were full.

As of last Monday, the 15 hospitals included some of the state’s biggest regional hospitals: Delta Regional in Greenville, Baptist’s locations in both Southaven and Jackson, Forrest General, and UMMC in Jackson, which tends to stay full.

As of Thursday, those regional hospitals were still full or close to it, and across the state 82% of ICU beds were full. Those offering the highest levels of COVID care (16 self-designated hospitals, as Levels 1 and 2) were 88% full.

As for running at sustained full-capacity, Jones says the current reprieve has helped reduce complex COVID care demands and allowed for some future planning. But he doesn’t expect it to linger as he sees schools, colleges and sports resume and new cases slowly start to tick back up.

“It’s human nature when you’re not in the eye of the storm, to lose sight of the fact that there is a storm. Numbers going down, fewer people we know have it, there are decreased hospitalizations — we become lackadaisical about things that resulted in that present reality,” Jones said. “You have people that just don’t even care anymore, I think that’s also just human nature.”

But he adds that complacency with individual behavior will drive the hospital back into critical levels that late July brought, and there’s only so much health care systems can do when people don’t follow guidelines, mandates or learn to “co-exist with the virus,” he says.

“It would be as if you had a MASH (mobile army surgical hospital) unit in a war where all of the soldiers just threw their guns down, didn’t fight back and just got shot. You’re just going to get overwhelmed and your interpretation is going to be, ‘You guys didn’t do what you were supposed to do or needed to do to help us.’ How can you expect us to be able to take up all that slack?” he said. “There’s not enough resources. It requires everybody to do their part. If you look at countries that have managed to control this — every human in various roles has managed to do their part, for the most part.”


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

COVID-19

801 new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday in Mississippi; seven-day average a third higher than last month

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New COVID-19 cases remain high in Mississippi, with the seven-day average one-third higher than it was at this time in September.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported five new COVID-19 cases Wednesday in Warren County and no new deaths. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,532, and the county’s death toll is 55.

Statewide, MSDH reported 801 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 112,123. The seven-day average of new cases is 758, higher by 253 cases, about one-third, from a month ago.

Most new cases are seen in younger people recently, and they are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. By far, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are young people from 18 to 29 years old.

MSDH reported Wednesday that 21 additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,223. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.9%.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day was 67 reported Aug. 25.

Of the 21 deaths MSDH reported Wednesday, 12 occurred between Aug. 11 and Oct. 19 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Wednesday
Forrest 1
Hinds 3
Jackson 2
Jones 1
Lauderdale 1
Lincoln 1
Panola 1
Pearl River 1
Washington 1

Nine COVID-19 related deaths occurred between Aug. 19 and Oct. 14, identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths identified from death certificate reports
Clarke 1
George 1
Issaquena 1
Jones 1
Lauderdale 2
Perry 1
Washington 1
Itawamba 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations nearly tripled by late July. They leveled off in early August and began noticeably dropping in the middle of the month including critical cases and numbers of people requiring ventilators. Hospitalizations continued to drop in September but levelled off at the middle of the month. They dropped again through Oct. 3; however, hospitalizations have been showing a rise since then.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, is 653, more than half of the late July peak of about 1,200. The number includes 541 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 112 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 151 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 70 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 97,675 through Sunday, Oct. 11. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 87.1% of the cumulative 112,123 cases reported Wednesday, Oct. 21.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Wednesday, Sept. 30, was 1,418, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,363, or about 89% of the 1,532 cumulative cases reported as of Wednesday, Oct. 21. The county has an estimated 114 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Thursday, Oct. 15, is 900,479 or about 30.3% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. Mississippi’s positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average) was 17.8% Tuesday according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 5.5%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities was 127 Tuesday. About 40.1%, or 1,293, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 26 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data here. The latest data available is for the week ending Oct. 4.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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USM interim head coach tests positive for COVID-19

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USM interim head coach COVID-19
Scotty Walden (photo courtesy USM Athletics)

The University of Southern Mississippi’s interim head football coach Scotty Walden has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Earlier this morning I tested positive for COVID-19,” Walden said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “I am fine and have mild to no symptoms. I am quarantining back home until it is safe to rejoin the team. I want to thank Golden Eagle Nation for all of their support for our program during this difficult period. I want to thank our players and staff for continuing to be incredibly resilient during such an unstable time.

“Our team will continue to work diligently in preparation for our game this Saturday against Liberty.”

Walden is self isolating at his home and will continue to oversee the program remotely.

The Golden Eagles’ last two games were postponed due to COVID-19 concerns but as of now their game against Liberty this coming Saturday is still on schedule.

 

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Vicksburg Warren School Districts reports nine new COVID-19 cases and 64 in quarantine

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The Vicksburg Warren School District reports nine new COVID-19 cases in its schools for the week of Oct. 12 through Oct. 16.

In addition, 64 students, teachers and staff members are newly quarantined due to possible exposure to the virus during in the same time period.

Cases and quarantines were reported in the following schools:

Academy of Innovation
10 quarantined – students

Beechwood Elementary
2 new positive cases – staff
1 new positive case – student
5 quarantined – student

Bovina Elementary
1 new positive case – student

Dana Road Elementary
1 new positive case – teacher/staff
1 new positive case – student
12 quarantined – students

Warren Central High School
1 new positive case – student
20 quarantined – students

Warren Central Junior High
2 new positive cases – teachers/staff
7 quarantined – teachers/staff
10 quarantined – students

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