Public health officials announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Mississippi as the disease is declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. At the Mississippi Department of Health, state leadership called for extraordinary caution for all residents, and laid out proper procedures for seeking testing. Photo by Nick Judin
In the wake of the state's first-known case of coronavirus in Forrest County, the Mississippi Department of Health today stressed that symptoms for COVID-19 are indistinguishable from the flu, and warned that individuals showing symptoms should seek testing at their primary care provider in a clinical environment. Sick or potentially exposed individuals are strongly urged against going to the emergency room for testing.
The agency and state leadership explained the known extent of the virus this morning at a press conference on Woodrow Wilson Drive in Jackson. Yesterday, the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs announced expanded access to the Public Health Lab's COVID-19 testing procedures. Whether or not the doctors know it yet, all primary-care providers in Mississippi have access to courier services to send potential COVID-19 samples to the state's testing facility or private facilities capable of confirming or dispelling a potential infection.
Testing, however, is not available to anyone not yet showing the flu-like symptoms.
A man in Forrest County is Mississippi's first confirmed COVID-19 patient. Described as "adult aged, but not over 65," he is in isolation after officials believe he contracted the disease while in Florida. Mississippi has currently tested 42 individuals for COVID-19. Of those tests, the Forrest man represents the only positive confirmation of the virus as of press time.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann praised the actions of the man and the physician who thought to test him for COVID-19 as "exactly the right thing." The Public Health Lab is capable of performing 200 tests per day. Lab leadership does not anticipate a bottleneck in testing needs.
Greg Michel, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, says the State's emergency operations have activated at Level 1, a degree of raised preparedness last invoked for Hurricane Katrina. This designation, Michel said, comes out of a surfeit of caution, to establish the "proper focus" for an event of this magnitude.
The State cancelled all public visitation to Mississippi's prison facilities. Visitation is scheduled to resume after the completion of preventative measures against the spread of the virus.
Mississippians exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 should self-quarantine for a period of two weeks and seek testing if they begin to display symptoms, the experts said. However, residents and visitors from areas affected by the virus who have not come into close contact with the infected should not feel compelled to self-quarantine, they added.
Self-quarantined residents should avoid contact with other members of their household.
Regardless of level of risk or exposure, everyone should practice impeccable hygiene standards to avoid coming into contact with or spreading it even, whether you're symptomatic or not. Frequent hand-washing for longer than 20 seconds—sing "Happy Birthday" twice—and use of hand-sanitizer containing more than 60% alcohol, as well as care touching public objects, can help reduce the spread of the virus.
All individuals over age 65, as well as any individual considered immunocompromised should avoid all public gatherings of over 250 people. Mississippi public-health officials encourage, but do not mandate, that organizers of gatherings of over 250 people cancel these events.
Schools are not closing in response to the virus' arrival in Mississippi. MSDH urges the cancellation of school gatherings of more than 250 people. Data from around the globe reveal that COVID-19 does not display high virulence among young children. In China, only 2.4% of reported cases affected children.
As for colleges, Mississippi's Institutions of Higher Learning extended spring break for another week, giving the state's public universities time to transition all class activities to distance-learning platforms.
The MSDH website, healthyms.com, provides additional information on the virus in Mississippi and effective preventative measures for all residents.
Read the JFP's coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. And read about announced closings and delays in Mississippi here. Read MEMA's press release on a COVID-19 preparedness kit here. Email information about closings and other vital related logistical details to [email protected].
Email state reporter Nick Judin, who is covering COVID-19 in Mississippi, at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nickjudin.
Read more stories at jacksonfreepress.com/coronavirus.