Local health care workers overwhelmed as COVID-19 numbers grow

Published 3:09 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2020

NATCHEZ — Mississippi State Department of Health reported 862 new confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide and 23 new deaths on Tuesday.

Local officials said local COVID-19 numbers are pushing the limits of an overwhelmed healthcare workers and testing supplies are becoming more limited.

Adams County’s numbers as of Tuesday’s statewide report were at 388 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths.

Mississippi’s total of COVID-19 cases since March 11 now stands at 37,542 with 1,272 deaths.

Adams County had 71 active COVID-19 cases in the county as of Monday, said Neifa Hardy, liason officer for the Adams County Emergency Management Agency.

Hardy’s report came during Monday’s meeting of the Natchez COVID-19 Task Force where members reported high numbers of cases in recent weeks.

“Our positivity rate for Adams County is holding at approximately 17% compared to the Mississippi rate of 11%,” said Norma Williams who tracks COVID-19 numbers for the Natchez COVID-19 Task Force. “Please keep in mind the positivity rates that we are reporting will always be understated because the denominator or total testing in Adams County may include people who live in neighboring counties. Therefore, Merit Health’s positivity rate would be more accurate. We are just providing this kind of as a reference as a bottom threshold.”

Williams said that over the past seven days, July 5 through the July 11, Adams County had an additional 41 new cases bringing the county’s total to 351 for a 13% increase.

“Also, of the 124 new cases over the past 21 days — that’s June 21 through July 11 — 41 of those cases were over the past week, July 5 through July 11,” Williams said. “On July 8 we had 17 new cases matching our July 4 of 17 new cases and just under our record high of 18 cases on June 8. Keep in mind since our data is on a one-day lag we had another seven new cases reported by the Mississippi department of health, which brings our revised total to 358 cases. …”

Williams reported two new deaths in Adams County over the seven-day period, which represents an 11% increase over the prior week.

“Likewise, Concordia Parish had 30 new cases for a total of 147 or a 26% increase over that same seven-day period July 5 through the 11th. Also, of the 46 new cases over the past 21 days in Concordia Parish 30 of those cases were over the past week alone,” Williams said. “Concordia also had an additional four new cases reported yesterday (Sunday) from their Louisiana Department of Health bringing their revised total to 151 cases.”

Concordia Parish reported another new death and now has a total of nine deaths, Williams said.

Task Force Chairman Dr. Lee England said he is currently caring for numerous COVID-19 patients and the area Mississippi State Department of Health workers are overwhelmed in conducting contact tracings for individuals exposed to COVID in the nine county area comprising the MSDH’s District 7 that includes Adams County.

“They can do 50 per day but they have got a load of 300 to do and that is as of Friday,” England said. “They are getting overwhelmed.”

England said it is important for people to wear masks to help curtail the spread of COVID-19.

“It appears to me to really have a functioning economy in this environment, everybody is going to have to wear the masks and if we don’t we will falter with the economy because of employees that have to be quarantined and cases that take people out of work and nothing will function,” England said. “That becomes increasingly important now.”

The alternative is to face another lockdown similar to the one enacted earlier in the year.

“A lockdown works,” England said. “We’ve seen that but nobody wants that. On the other hand if things get really bad people will lock themselves down even without a government order. They will be scared enough to not want to go out.”

Merit Health Natchez CEO Lance Boyd said the hospital as of Monday the hospital had 10 COVID-19 patients.

“Last Monday we had six patients with COVID positive in the hospital and it quickly rose to eight and then 11 and then 13 in sequential days and it started to drop back to 11, then 10 and currently today (Monday) we have 10 patients and no patients on the ventilator are related to COVID,” Boyd said. “We did transfer two out this weekend from the ER that were positive. We sent those to high-level care. They had some pretty serious other issues going on but currently we sit at 10.”

Boyd said Merit has several staff members who are out after having tested positive for COVID-19.

“It may or may not be because of their work environment,” Boyd said. “As best we can tell in the general community it is growing like crazy so these folks may or may not be getting it at work. Regardless they are not able to work once they contract it.”

Boyd reiterated that the original lockdown in March was in part to keep the hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

“we knew there was a finite amount of resources,” Boyd said. “Southwest Hospital in McComb has been on diversion since last week, meaning they are not taking any additional patients because they had a numerous amount of nurses who were out with COVID and they did not have the staff to take care of the patients that needed the help.”

Merit is now seeing many patients that would have gone to the McComb hospital now come to Natchez.

“Once McComb gets shutdown then the patients are rerouted here, then to Brookhaven,” Boyd said. “You can see how that can overwhelm the system. Employee cases are a concern. Not just that they can catch it here but they can catch it at the market as well.”

Boyd said MSDH issued a notice on Friday to suspend elective medical procedures because of increased hospitalizations across the state.

“If it is an elective procedure, meaning it is elective and not urgent, they have been suspended again,” Boyd said. “They are going to look at that again on July 20 to see where the curve is but that is just one change that has happened there.”

Boyd said COVID testing supplies are low at the hospital and they are no longer testing asymptomatic people.

Boyd said the hospital with 10 COVID-19 patients is not at capacity for COVID-19 patients.

“The most we have had at any one time here is 19 and that was back in April but we had nine on the ventilators at that time so it is hard to put a number on it, but we do know if we doubled our numbers right now that would be a very stressful almost a fracture point for us because the staff is worn out,” Boyd said. “They have been doing this since March and it is not a pleasant environment to have to dress down and dress out so that is the real challenge. The staff is worn out.”

More details of COVID-19 in the state, along with preventive steps to take against coronavirus and statewide testing locations, are online at http://HealthyMS.com/covid-19.

The Mississippi Coronavirus Hotline is the best way to get your questions about COVID-19 answered. Call 877-978-6453 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.