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U.S. Surgeon General asks people to stop buying face masks as coronavirus fears spread

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Disposable face masks (image in public domain)

America’s top doctor wants you to stop buying up face masks.

“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams wrote in a tweet Saturday.

Panic about the COVID-19 coronavirus is emptying store shelves and making masks harder to get for health-care workers who really need them. In Central Mississippi, Polk’s Drugs in Byram told WLBT Friday that their Memphis, Tenn., supplier is unable to ship orders for facemasks and rubber gloves.

Adams is echoing advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that does not recommend face masks for healthy people:

  • CDC does not recommend that people who are well 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).

Adams followed up his Saturday tweet with a string of seven tweets Sunday morning “focused on sharing the facts about #COVID19 and stopping the spread of rumors.”

Most of his tweets linked to the CDC’s website, which provides complete and accurate information about the disease, its spread and how to protect yourself from it.

Included is an exhaustive list of measures that all of us should take to prevent any kind of viral infection. The list contains a wealth of common-sense advice including washing your hands frequently (and providing information on how to do that) and staying home if you are not well.

COVID-19 shows little signs of slowing its spread.

The number of cases worldwide now exceeds 88,000 and 3,000 deaths. More than 42,000 people have fully recovered. Most cases, 79,828, are still in China, where the virus was first diagnosed; however, the highest number of new cases are now being reported outside of China, especially in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

China has taken extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of the disease, including surrounding and quarantining entire towns and preventing businesses from re-opening. As a result, the rate of new infections seems to be slowing there.

The financial economy has entered “correction” territory due to the disease. International markets have plunged in the past week in reaction to the virus’ rapid spread and disruption of supply chains. The U.S. S&P 500 and Dow Jones, along with Britain’s FTSE 200, Germany’s DAX and Japan’s Nikkei 225 have all fallen 10% or more in some of the steepest drops since the 2008 Great Recession.

In the U.S., 71 cases have now been confirmed. The U.S. reported its first case on Jan. 30 and recorded its first death from the disease on Saturday, Feb. 29, with the death of a 50-year-old man near Seattle, Wash. Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee has proclaimed a state of emergency.

Vice President Mike Pence, tasked with managing the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. by President Donald Trump, said in a press conference that he has issued new “do not travel” warnings to areas in Italy and South Korea, and is barring any travel to Iran, countries all hit hard in recent days.

President Trump attempted to calm fears during Saturday’s press conference, appealing to “the media and politicians and everybody else involved not do anything to incite a panic because there’s no reason to panic at all.”

During a political rally Friday, he accused Democrats of politicizing the outbreak and manufacturing panic.

For more information, please visit the CDC website, and read our previous stories about the virus here and here.

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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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