Following the State of Mississippi’s lead, Montgomery County and the City of Winona have declared a state of emergency in response to the ongoing coronavirus virus pandemic, also known as COVID-19.
According to Allan Pratt, Montgomery County’s Emergency Management Director, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Montgomery County, as of press time Wednesday. However, he did say one state agency office has closed due to a possible exposure.
“Our office was advised that a local state agency office has closed for precautionary measures and are waiting for the office to be cleaned,” Pratt said. “This is due to someone who had been exposed of the virus being in the office.”
Pratt went on to say that his office has not been advised as to how many have been tested for the virus in Montgomery County, but no cases have been reported in the county.
According to the Mississippi Department of Health, Mississippi has 34 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of press time. Updates are made daily on the agency’s website, msdh.ms.gov.
Last Friday morning, Lisa Anderson, the regional epidemiology nurse with the Mississippi State Department of Health, met with officials in Carroll County to provide a greater understanding of COVID-19 and its threat to public health in Mississippi.
COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan City in China’s Hubei Province, with those initial cases having links to a large seafood and animal market. Anderson said the virus was transmitted from animal to human and now human to human. The virus spread to tens of thousands in China, and widespread transmission was also reported in South Korea, Iran, and Italy. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21.
On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. According to Anderson, a pandemic is classified by two criteria, it is a new virus and it is capable of person-to-person spread. Because there is no vaccine and it is highly contagious, it increases the likelihood that a global pandemic will result.
As of today, March 18, there have been 4,226 cases of COVID-19 confirmed and 75 deaths in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control. Worldwide, the CDC’s latest numbers show 179,111 cases and 7,426 deaths.
The virus is transmitted person-to-person through droplets of body fluid that leave the body when an infect person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu is transmitted. Symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and complications include pneumonia and death.
Anderson said for most people who are infected, the illness is “mild.” However, for some, especially those older than 65 and those with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, the infection can be more serious. It may lead to hospitalization or death.
In a release, Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs recommended limiting long-term care visitors and mass social gatherings.
“We know that this virus is easily spread person to person, so we recommend limiting visitations and discontinuing any group social activities in long-term care facilities,” Dobbs stated.
He also recommended that communities and organizations take specific steps in determining if mass gatherings should be canceled.
“Our older population and chronically ill individuals should protect themselves by avoiding gatherings of more than 250 people,” he stated.
Last weekend, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves announced that he had declared a state of emergency for the state. He said the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency considers the pandemic a Level 1 disaster, which the state has not seen since Hurricane Katrina.
Montgomery County Board of Supervisors followed suit Monday, with their own resolutions declaring a state of emergency.
Pratt said he has been in constant contact with the Mississippi Department of Health about the crisis, and he presented the board with a county preparedness plan that mirrors the state’s plan.
“[The county] still needs to function business as usual,” Pratt said. “We may have to do some things later, and if the crisis progresses, we will have to make changes [to the plan].”
Currently, the Montgomery County Courthouse is open and county offices are open, however, county leadership is asking that residents visit the courthouse only for urgent business. They encourage residents with regular county business to use the telephone, email, or postal service.
The Mississippi Supreme Court issued an order stating that local courts will continue to convene, however, only essential court personnel, attorneys, and those coming before the court should attend sessions of court, limiting the number of people in the courtroom to 10 people at a time.
The Winona Board of Aldermen passed their own resolution declaring a state of emergency in the city, and the board voted to close the Winona Recreational Park, including all recreational sports, playground and walking trail, the Winona Community House, and the Winona Community Center. All scheduled events at these facilities have been canceled through April 7, when the board will reassess the situation.
Also, the lobby to Winona City Hall is closed to unauthorized personnel until April 7. All city business may be conducted at the drive-up window.
Pratt said that the Mississippi Department of Health is asking anyone who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to stay away from hospital emergency rooms to prevent exposure to the public and healthcare providers. They ask those exhibiting symptoms to contact their local doctor or hospital by telephone before visiting in person, and the doctor will advise of what to do.
Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital has taken safety measures to protect its patients and their family members as well as hospital staff during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of our patients, their families, and our staff,” said Cori Bailey, chief operating officer at the hospital. “With this in mind, we appreciate your understanding and patience during this rapidly evolving incident.”
The hospital is limiting visitation to patients to one visitor, immediate family only, at a time, and access to the hospital is through the Emergency Room entrance only. Visitation is from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m., and no one will be allowed to enter or leave other than during those hours.
“Be prepared for a short health screening and a temperature check before you are allowed entry to the patient floor,” Bailey said. “Anyone with fever, shortness of breath or any other symptoms related to the COVID outbreak will be denied entry for visitation.”
Baily stressed that this does not include those seeking medical care for these symptoms.
She also urged patients experiencing symptoms – cough, fever, and/or shortness of breath – call the emergency room prior to coming to allow the hospital staff to prepare.
Tyler Holmes Senior Life Solution Center has suspended daily operations for this week, and Bailey said the hospital will re-evaluate at that time for future openings.