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Stressed about COVID-19? UMMC experts offer advice on dealing with it

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Story by Ruth Cummins, UMMC

You’re not sounding the alarm to friends and family just yet, but you’re down to a six-pack of toilet paper, and you’re kicking yourself for not stocking up when it was on shelves two weeks ago.

It’s just one more stress to juggle during the current COVID-19 outbreak, with health experts advising Mississippians to hole up at home, and fears about contracting the highly contagious virus a great motivator for seclusion.

Take a step back and focus on what’s in your power, not what isn’t, experts at the University of Mississippi Medical Center say.

“I don’t have control over whether there will be toilet paper in the store. All I can do is make reasonable attempts to get it, and if worst comes to worst, come up with a plan B,” said Dr. Daniel Williams, division chief in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and associate director in the Office of Well-being. “When people don’t have things, they get very creative.”

No matter what is upsetting you, your feelings are normal and nothing to be ashamed of, Williams said.

“These are unprecedented times. What we are experiencing is abnormal, and we’re having anxiety that we normally wouldn’t have,” he said. “We need to recalibrate and recognize this as a period of uncertainty, and we need to adjust.

“It’s not helpful to think that things will be normal in a while. They won’t.”

Williams and other Medical Center experts offer advice on how to cope with a very unwelcome new normal and, quite frankly, just to get through your day:

  • Try not to fixate on worrisome things, no matter how big or small, that you can’t change. “I have no control over the stock market, so I probably shouldn’t put my time and energy into that,” Williams said. “Let’s not worry about the short-term pain there. I don’t have control over whether my loved ones will stay well, but I do have control over whether I practice social distancing around them, or wash my hands around them.”
  • A trip to the grocery store can be scary for those who look at empty shelves, or pictures of them on Facebook. “Here’s where we need to focus on objective data,” Williams said. “Every day, almost all grocery stores are being restocked. The supply chain is working. We shouldn’t hoard food. That means somebody will show up at the grocery and not be able to purchase food that day.

“There’s the psychological impulse to get as much of it as you can. That’s not in anybody’s best interest. Sometimes, our impulses lead us astray.”

  • Information overload on each new COVID-19 development in Italy or New York City leaves us sleepless and glued to our phone at 3 a.m. “Limit your amount of news consumption,” Williams said. “It’s tempting to stay connected to every development and update and tweet, but that creates a very stressful and anxious way of living.

“Check in on the news a couple of times a day, and then take a break from it. Do things that give you pleasure and that are in your best interests. We can’t just focus on the doom and gloom. We need to recharge ourselves.”

  • Find safe ways to get around social distancing, if contact with others is important to you.

Dr. Joshua Mann, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and director of the Office of Well-being, this week found himself in that boat. He’s quarantined for two weeks because of recent out-of-state travel. “I’m a very social worker. I do pretty well for a couple of hours at home alone on my email, but I start going a little stir-crazy without the opportunity to bounce ideas off my colleagues,” he said

Keep up co-worker contact via email, Face Time, Zoom, Skype and old-fashioned phone calls, and keep meetings going electronically. Without that interaction, “it really does make it difficult to get work done, and that’s stressful,” Mann said.

“Just because we’re doing social distancing doesn’t mean we have to do emotional distancing,” Williams said. “Use it as a chance to reconnect with old friends. Really reach out to each other for support.”

  • Reduce anxiety about contracting the virus or spreading it by taking healthy actions that make you feel safe. That ranges from frequent hand washing to cleaning and disinfecting your desk or other surfaces you may encounter that can carry germs, Williams said. That also includes your phone!
  • Create structure in your day, whether you are stuck at home or in a work twilight zone. “If you are quarantined, set an alarm and wake up at the same time you usually do. Go to bed when you usually do,” Williams said. “Make a list of what you want to accomplish that day. Maintain normalcy in your schedule.”
  • Good deeds and meaningful action can help you de-stress, Mann said. “When we take action to protect the people who have underlying health conditions or who are older, we are doing something good,” Mann said. “There is research that shows if you are experiencing a high level of stress, serving others helps to diminish it. It benefits the giver as well.”
  • Talk about it.

“We don’t need to pretend like this is normal. Sometimes, if you talk about it, it comes back into perspective,” Williams said. “Talk it out, and process how you are feeling. You might find that you built some of it up in your mind to be more catastrophic than it is because you were stuck in your feelings.”

And, back to that toilet paper.

“Even if you can’t get any, it’s not the end of the world,” Williams said. “You can still live a happy life. People throughout most of history have lived without it.

“We can adjust. Life will go on, and the sun will come up the next day.”


This article is republished with the permission of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. It was originally published March 19 at https://www.umc.edu/news/News_Articles/2020/03/COVID-19-Stressors.html

COVID-19

The new normal: How Mississippi students are adjusting to a virtual school year

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A Jackson Public Schools student attends class on his laptop from a classroom at the Capitol Street campus of the Boys and Girls Club on Sept. 21, 2020. Normally an afterschool program, the Club began opening at 7 a.m. and facilitating distance learning for the children of working families after schools closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (photo by Anna Wolfe, Mississippi Today)

On an early August morning, Clarksdale Collegiate Public Charter School teacher Hannah Fisher looked directly into her computer camera and asked her first graders to hold up their pencils. Every student who raised their pencil finished their assignment: spelling two and four letter words.

In a normal setting, Fisher would be in her classroom teaching students. Now, as a global pandemic has upended schooling and the way people teach, she’s fixated on students in small squares on Zoom. Some students were visible on their screens. A few others only displayed their names. 

A few minutes later, Fisher reminded students to move on to write their words. In the midst of that, she stopped to address a student’s behavior.

“Sit up,” she said to the student. “Remember we’re not (lying) on the carpet. We’re writing right now. … I’m going to turn off your video and it’ll come on in 30 seconds. OK? I’m gonna get you to fix it in that time.”

Fisher’s first graders are not alone in struggling to stay engaged, communicate and navigate online platforms. Additionally, connectivity and internet access is a hindrance to getting kids online. The Mississippi Department of Education is currently rolling out a plan to deliver nearly 400,000 devices to students. Districts are supposed to receive them no later than Nov. 20. The department said 12 districts are receiving their devices this week, though many are still waiting. 

Students and parents say they fear the negative impact the delay will have on student learning.

READ MORE: Mississippi is getting devices to every child. That’s just the first step.

“(Schools) want to make sure that kids are safe, accounted for, (and) engaged in their learning,” said Brennan Parton, policy and advocacy director at Data Quality Campaign. “They’re really having to rethink and reimagine and get creative about how we do that during this unprecedented time … the stakes are higher.”

Nearly three months ago, the state department required local school districts to submit their reopening plans detailing how they will resume — whether virtual, in-person or a mixture of the two. 

The Clarksdale Municipal School District settled on virtual learning for the first half of the semester. This changed when school officials learned many students did not have internet access or devices. So for the first two weeks of school, students received instructional packets. Currently, 21% of the student population uses instructional packets only and 57% is virtual only, according to data from the Clarksdale Municipal district.

Students said the instructional packets cause confusion and leave them unmotivated because they don’t provide the opportunity for teacher-student interaction the way a traditional classroom set up does. 

“I’ve never taken human anatomy so I don’t know what I’m doing, meaning more than likely if I don’t find the answers online, I will fail doing the packets,” Marchellos Scott, Jr., a Clarksdale High School senior, said. “The teachers said they’re just holding on, doing what they’re being told and everything keeps changing so they are confused as well.”

Scott is enrolled in virtual only but is required to complete instructional packets for certain classes, he said. He said he thinks his grades will suffer because he is not learning as much.

For other students, online learning halts much needed support services.

Griffin Threatt, an eighth grader at Clinton Junior High School, said he missed the face-to-face interaction with his teachers. Griffin is on a hybrid schedule, but a traditional classroom environment keeps him “more focused while I’m learning,” he said.

His mother, Amanda Threatt, praised his growth over the past year, but worries he won’t be able to keep up. She added he hasn’t received as much support as a student with special needs.

“I went ahead and got him a math tutor because he’s in Algebra this year just to keep him on task,” she said. “(One of his teachers) said it’s really hard to help the kids with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) because we really don’t have the support right now… He feels like he’s learning but not at the rate he’s used to.”

Some parents said virtual learning created opportunities to spend quality time they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Before the pandemic, Jackson native Brittany Watson Cain worked eight-hour days. She arrived at home around 10:00 p.m. every night, so she rarely saw her four children. When schools closed in March, so did the doors at her job. She started working from home.

“By the time you get home, you’re exhausted, they’re tired, so it wasn’t always the best scenario,” Watson Cain said. “It’s harder for some people because they don’t have that. They really don’t have childcare, you know? So I do understand.”

District officials said technology allows students to explore and use applications on their own even though it poses some challenges. Clarksdale Collegiate students had devices before the pandemic, but now students have devices at home. This means students don’t have in-person teacher support to assist with devices. Despite this, students are still able to navigate programs — like first graders submitting Google Forms, said Amanda Johnson, executive director of Clarksdale Collegiate.

 

“We’ve been pushed to think about how we use technology and just teaching our kids and getting them engaged,” Johnson said. “It’s allowing technology to help us solve problems and help us support our kids more. There’s no reason why that should go away.” 

Parton, the Data Quality Campaign director, says state education agencies and lawmakers should be forward-thinking about understanding how the pandemic has disrupted students’ learning progress. This magnifies learning inequities even more for students who need more support and resources. 

“Even as they’re trying to meet students’ acute needs — internet access, laptops, engagement in class — states also need to be planful about the kinds of things that they’re going to need to do not only now, but the rest of the school year,” Parton said. “There’s going to be a lot of academic slide for students – more than you normally lose over the course of the summer.”

Carey Wright, state superintendent of Mississippi public schools, encourages teachers to accelerate learning as a way to address learning loss, or academic slide. For example, if a student is in fifth grade, the teacher should teach fifth grade standards.

“Our standards are designed in a way that they build on each other and also spiral,” she told Mississippi Today. “If you keep drilling and killing on some of these skills, kids are never going to get it. Start with grade-level standards and accelerate their learning. That approach is one that has been validated by others in the field.”

Remote learning is a learning curve for educators and families, but consistent communication and proper resources can alleviate concerns and access barriers for students.

“Until everyone gets on the same page, it’s only going to get worse,” Scott, the Clarksdale student, said. “It’s definitely gonna be hard on students, but I think we should still put together plans in case something like this happens again.”


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

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COVID-19 cases in Mississippi top 110,000 Saturday

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Mississippi’s cumulative number of COVID-19 cases topped 110,000 Saturday as cases continue to rise in the state.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported seven new COVID-19 cases Saturday in Warren County and no new deaths. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,518, and the county’s death toll is 54.

Statewide, MSDH reported 751 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 110,006. The seven-day average of new cases is 766, higher by 250 cases 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 Saturday that 10 additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,171. 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.

The 10 deaths MSDH reported Saturday occurred between Oct. 7 and Oct. 15 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Saturday
Adams 1
George 1
Hinds 1
Jackson 1
Jones 1
Marshall 1
Neshoba 1
Pearl River 1
Washington 2

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16. 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. Friday, Oct. 16, is 609, about half of the late July peak of more than 1,200. The number includes 501 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 108 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 140 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 69 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 94,165 through Sunday, Oct. 11. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 85.6% of the cumulative 110,006 cases reported Saturday, Oct. 17.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Saturday, Sept. 26, was 1,407, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,353, or about 89.1% of the 1,518 cumulative cases reported as of Saturday, Oct. 17. The county has an estimated 111 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 18.3% Friday according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 5.3%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities is 127 Saturday. About 40.4%, or 1,280, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 25 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi on its website 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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New COVID-19 cases in Mississippi top 1,000 again Friday; 25 new cases in Warren County

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New COVID-19 cases reported Friday in Mississippi topped 1,000 for the second consecutive day. As Mississippi found out this summer, as new cases rise, so do hospitalizations, and both have been rising steadily since the beginning of October. The state’s seven-day average is nearly at 800.

Mississippi isn’t alone in seeing cases rise. As a whole, the nation is seeing a 25% rise in new case seven-day averages, WJTV reported Thursday, with New Mexico, Vermont, New Hampshire, Montana and Connecticut leading the way. Only two states, Hawaii and Maine, have seen drops in new cases in the past week.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 25 new COVID-19 cases Friday in Warren County — the highest single-day count since August — and no new deaths. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,511, and the county’s death toll is 54.

Statewide, MSDH reported 1,116 new COVID-19 cases Friday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 109,255. The seven-day average of new cases is 796, higher by 306 cases 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 Friday that nine additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,160. 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.

MSDH reported Friday that deaths occurred between Oct. 3 and Oct. 15 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Friday
Coahoma 1
Copiah 1
Harrison 1
Jackson 1
Lauderdale 1
Leflore 2
Lowndes 1
Wilkinson 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15. 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. Wednesday, Oct. 14, is 598, about half of the late July peak of more than 1,200. The number includes 481 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 117 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 145 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 72 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 94,165 through Sunday, Oct. 11. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 86.2% of the cumulative 109,255 cases reported Friday, Oct. 16.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Friday, Sept. 25, was 1,405, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,351, or about 89.4% of the 1,511 cumulative cases reported as of Friday, Oct. 16. The county has an estimated 106 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. The positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average) was 6.3% Sunday according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 5.2%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities is 128 Friday. About 40.3%, or 1,275, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 25 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 Sept. 27.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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