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Officials concerned about COVID-19 caseload as school begins

NATCHEZ — Area community and medical leaders said they are concerned about the next three months and the potential for COVID-19 cases to spike in Adams County after students returned to classes this week.

“I’m personally anticipating a surge after the schools open up,” said Dr. Lee England during Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson’s COVID Current conference call Wednesday.

England said he had received a lot of telephone calls in recent days from people concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 as schools have begun fall classes.

“We are having to open the schools with too much disease activity going on and our test positivity rate is (approximately) 20%. You really want it more like 5% to do any kind of opening up safely,” England said. “…I’m just afraid that once we get into October and then in to November and then when college students come back home for Christmas break that I think the next three months are going to be very trying here and I hope I am wrong but I think everybody needs to be ready for that.”

England said the United States has more COVID-19 activity than other places in the world that are opening up with fewer problems.

“I was reading that in August, this past month, in the United States, there were 30,000 people that died of coronavirus and in the European Union, which includes more people than in the United States, that they only had 4,000 deaths,” England said. “They are in a position to do some things with schools and opening up businesses that we are not in a position to do. That’s my personal observation.”

Adams County’s COVID-19 positivity rate is now below 20%, Lance Boyd, Merit Health Natchez CEO, told the group in presenting statistics compiled by volunteer Norma Williams, who could not attend Wednesday’s meeting.

“We slipped just under 20%,” Boyd said. “The last seven days, the positivity rate for Mississippi is 17.3%. For the last seven days in Adams County we’ve had 37 new cases with five of those being in people under the age of 18. The previous seven days we had 47 new cases in Adams County so that is a decrease of 10 over the last seven days.”

As of Tuesday, Adams County had a total of 828 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began in March.

In Thursday’s statewide Mississippi State Department of Health COVID-19 report, the state had 517 new COVID-19 cases and 33 new deaths. Adams County’s numbers increased to 832 and the county’s death toll stood at 32.

The state’s total since the pandemic began is now 88,322 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,656 deaths.

In Louisiana, Concordia Parish, Boyd said during Wednesday’s meeting, had reported 25 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days.

“That brings their year-to-date cases up to 451 cases,” Boyd said of Concordia Parish. “Mississippi remains the No. 3 state in the country on positive cases per 100,000 people. We also are No. 5 in the country in COVID deaths per 100,000 people.”

Boyd said Merit Health Natchez had 11 positive COVID-19 patients in the hospital as of Wednesday.

“One of those is on the ventilator,” Boyd said. “This is the first time we have been in double digits in just over two weeks so we have had a nice run of getting a little reprieve. We have been running from eight to 12 positive COVID patients pretty consistently for months now. Glad to see we haven’t ballooned up but we sure haven’t gotten rid of it yet.”

Boyd said the hospital’s resources are adequate.

“We are good on supplies,” Boyd said. “We are good on most everything. It is just the staff, making sure the staff is able to get some rest and take a breather. Like I said many times these patients take three to 10 times the normal resources to take care of them than they do normal patients. It does take its toll on the staff, so we just continue to lift them up in prayer and also to be an encouragement to them.”

On Tuesday, Adams County Emergency Operations Director Robert Bradford Sr. said Adams County had 83 active cases of COVID-19, and James Lee reported another death in Adams County bringing the county’s death toll to 33 deaths since the pandemic began in March. The latest death reported by Lee has not yet been reported by the MSDH.

Tony Fields, Natchez Adams School District community engagement director, said schools got off to a good start Wednesday, despite a few technological glitches.

“Every school has a triage station where no matter where you come in the school, if you come in the, getting dropped off, or you drive, the bus or whatever, you’re getting your temperature checked, you’re getting asked those pertinent questions, have you been around anyone with COVID?” Fields said. “Are you exhibiting any symptoms? Do you have fever over 100? That kind of thing.”

Fields said a majority of the students chose to attend online only courses this fall.

“That has allowed us at each school to really spread out social distance and really have traditional school,” Fields said. “That part of it worked out well. We are going to have to work on some issues we are having with digital learning but we knew we were going to have that with our infrastructure but we are working through that as well.”

Fields said if a teacher or student tests positive it must be reported to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

“We have to report every week student cases, staff cases, outbreaks, those under quarantine, we are going to have to report that,” Fields said.

After reporting a positive case, the school district will have to follow protocol.

“First we have to do the contact tracing,” Fields said of protocol after someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the schools. “We have to notify those people who have been around that student or staff member for more than 15 minutes or any lengthy period of time so we have to notify those people as well so they have to quarantine. The recommendation for quarantine now is 10 days vs. 14.”