Mission Primary Care on Mission 66 and Medical Associates of Vicksburg on South Frontage Road have modified their scheduling and routine procedures in response to the COVID-19 crises.
The clinics see their actions as proactive to limit their patients’ exposure to the virus.
At Mission Primary Care, morning appointments are now reserved for patients with regular medical needs such as blood pressure monitoring and medication refills, said Dr. Carlos A. Latorre, who practices family medicine at the clinic. Afternoon appointments are for folks with cold and flu symptoms, including coughs, breathing difficulties and especially fever, typical symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.
The clinic is asking those with symptoms to please call ahead at 601-636-1050. It is strictly limiting the number of persons in the facility at any one time.
Latorre says that the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are hard to differentiate. In addition to using the nasal swab test for flu, he may order a chest X-ray to look for signs of pneumonia.
Debby Runnels, the administrator at Medical Associates of Vicksburg and a registered nurse, said they are asking patients to call ahead as well at 601-262-1000. Patients will be connected to a trained staff member to be pre-screened by phone. When they arrive for their appointment, patients are asked to wait in their vehicles and call in. A staffer will escort them to specially designated rooms for evaluation and treatment.
Runnels said symptomatic patients are screened for cold and flu before a decision is made to administer the COVID-19 test. The tests are unpleasant, she said, but the procedures are necessary.
Latorre and Runnels both said there are a limited number of test kits available in the Vicksburg area.
Latorre believes that will change when the federal coronavirus taskforce led by Vice President Mike Pence puts pressure on providers to accelerate production.
A critical part of the kit is the packaging for transport to a lab. Samples must be correctly sealed and kept within a narrow temperature range to preserve their integrity. Results are generally available within 48 to 72 hours, but recently the labs have taken as long as five days. To date, about 600 Mississippians have been tested with 50 positive results.
A bigger issue are the few laboratories that can test the samples in Mississippi. Latorre said the Mississippi State Health Department can process around 200 samples per day, while independent LabCorp can test between 400 and 500 per day. Quest Diagnostics, another independent lab, should be online within a few days with similar capacities as LabCorp.
As test kits and labs become more available, Latorre expects to see an increase in testing statewide. At that juncture he anticipates MSDH will move into more of an oversight and crisis-management role.
Both health providers urge the public to follow the common-sense recommendations of state and federal health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Wash your hands often, stop touching your face, respect social-distancing directives and stay home if you’re ill among them.
They also expressed concern for those 65 and older and those with compromised immune systems. Both groups are at elevated risk of dying from COVID-19.
Merit Health River Region CEO Benjamin Richaud did not return our calls for this story.