Roughly four weeks ago, many Oxford residents left town headed for spring break. Now, students, professors and remote workers conduct class and business from their homes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Mississippi and the world.
According to the latest statistics from the state health department, Mississippi now has a reported 1,915 COVID-19 cases and 59 deaths as of April 6. The website statistics updated April 7 indicate that there have been 25 cases in Lafayette County and one death.
Hinds County leads the state with 169 cases, but no Hinds County deaths are reported on the state health department website chart that tracks infections by county. DeSoto County has the next highest rate of infections with 140 cases reported, followed by Jackson County with 108 cases and the highest number of reported deaths – 5; Harrison County with 89 cases; Madison, 82; Rankin, 78; and Lauderdale County with 78 cases. The chart is updated daily.
Family Nurse Practitioner Rachel Sledge has diagnosed three people in Lafayette County. Sledge said she has a strict regimen about what she wears and touches to ensure she doesn’t contract the virus. She is worried about the lack of masks for people in the medical field.
“There is an international shortage of these masks,” she said. “We cannot get them from any distributor in the country. Some of it is that we’ve never needed them in this volume, and some of it is that municipalities have been cutting health budgets and strategic stockpiles for years. If nobody is going to buy them, then they aren’t going to make them. We need 300 million masks, and we had maybe three million masks available.”
Masks are not the only thing that medical workers do not have. They are also running short on medical gloves and hand sanitizer.
“We couldn’t get gloves from three different medical wholesalers,” she said. “We can’t get hand sanitizer or Lysol spray. We buy that stuff in bulk monthly, but nobody expects this to happen. So I would say we probably have about 25 bottles of Lysol spray left. I don’t know what we’ll do when it runs out.”
Sledge said not everyone can get tested for the virus, but no one is immune from contracting COVID-19. The test involves a medical professional sticking a swab up your nose until it curves and goes into the back of your throat. However, medical professionals are limited by the number of people who can be tested.
“First of all, you have to be symptomatic,” Sledge said. “You have to have a cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath and a fever of 100.4 or higher. Then, you have to also meet one of these three criteria: institutionalized patients, so anybody in a nursing home or hospital; symptomatic healthcare workers; and individuals considered at high risk for complicated disease – so anyone over the age of 65 or with a suppressed immune system.”
While all of that is true, Sledge said she has the authorization to test anyone she feels needs to be tested.
“I do have the ability to test anybody I think needs testing,” she said. “I don’t have to ask for permission from the health department anymore, but I will say, there is a national shortage of the tests.”
Everyone wants to know when it will be safe to leave home. Sledge was less than optimistic about that being anytime soon. She does not see this problem going away in the near future.
“I think we’ll be quarantined at least six more weeks, but then I think it will start to relax,” she said. “And I will tell you that we will have another ’round’ of social distancing in the fall, winter, or even possibly this time next year. It’s tough to predict.
“Mississippi is not even coming close to flattening the curve. Not even close. Jackson still hasn’t gone into lockdown,” Sledge said at the time of the interview. “I am not really sure how the younger generation is doing here.”
Governor Tate Reeves issued an executive order April 1 mandating a statewide Shelter in Place effective 5 p.m. Friday, April 3 and remaining in place until Monday, April 20. Many businesses that have been deemed essential remain open.
Sledge said many Mississippians are still not taking precautions to fight the spread of the virus.
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said in a recent video posted to social media she believes the low amount of cases in Lafayette County “is giving the community a false sense of security.” She pleaded for people to stay inside and practice social distancing.
“As this story unfolds, it becomes more clear that no one is immune to the effects, regardless of age, race, socioeconomic status, or geographic location,” Tannehill said in the video.
Sledge thinks only one thing can make young people practice social distancing and stay inside.
“I fear it is going to take either a celebrity losing a life or someone local that kids know to get them to wake up,” Sledge said. “. . . It is going to be two to three cycles if this even has a season before people start building immunity and we have a vaccine. The question is not whether or not the vaccine will work; it is how long the vaccine is stable.”
Dr. Jonathan M. Stanfield, M.D., earned a degree in biology from the University of Alabama in Birmingham and a medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine.
“I have seen a significant drop in older and younger patients since the emergence of Covid-19, most likely due to the impact of social distancing,” he said.
Meghan Cole, a nurse practitioner-specialist who works at Primecare in Southeast Alabama, said people only come to her clinic now when it is absolutely necessary.
“All patients are treated the same if sick or well,” she said, “as if they have the virus to ensure safety to our employees. No patients are allowed to wait in the lobby. All are to sit in their car until we call them in.”
Stanfield’s practice is located in Alabama, but he said Mississippi and Alabama have a similar case load. While the Alabama Public Health website has reported 2,054 cases and 39 deaths, Mississippi’s state health department website reports 1,915 and 59 deaths as of April 6.
Stanfield said social distancing and staying home is important because it offers the best chance of slowing the spread of the virus. You may not be severely affected by this virus, but you could transmit it to someone else whose immune system may not be able to fight it.
“The best practice is to practice social distancing,” Stanfield said, “and if you begin to experience symptoms, self quarantine after being tested . . . At the end of all this, businesses will be back operational, restaurants will see their patrons return, and our general mood as a community will be elated.”
To remain informed about what is happening with the coronavirus and read and watch the latest updates, visit the city of Oxford’s website here.
You can track the virus throughout the state by visiting the state department of health website.