County sees big jump in Covid cases, mostly due to outbreak in local nursing home facility
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From Staff Reports
The Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH) on Thursday identified Leakesville Rehabilitation and Nursing Center as the Greene County nursing home with a major outbreak of Covid-19 cases.
MSDH, which first began identifying longterm care facilities with coronavirus cases with the release of names of facilities on Thursday, reported that Leakesville Rehab and Nursing Center (LRNC) has had 21 positive Covid-19 tests with 16 of those being residents and the other five being among LRNC’s staff.
Wayne County has gained the unwanted notoriety recently of being the state’s top ‘hot spot’ for Covid-19 cases. But, Greene County is experiencing a surge of its own, and with the 21 cases at the nursing facility, Greene County’s total number of cases as of Thursday had climbed to 33. Greene County had the second lowest total of coronavirus cases in the state just one week ago with just eight confirmed cases at that time.
Officials at the county’s other longterm care facility, Greene County Health and Rehab (adjacent to the county hospital), told the Herald on Tuesday they had not had any employees or residents that had tested positive for Covid-19.
The Herald reached out to the local management team at LRNC for comment, but as of mid-day Thursday had not gotten a response from company officials.
Greene County EMA Director Trent Robertson said the recent developments highlight the need for local residents to take Covid-19 precautions seriously.
“I think our community has felt somewhat insulated from this crisis, but the situation in Wayne County and the recent uptick in cases locally show that we aren’t,” Robertson said. “This is a very serious situation and our residents need to be taking precautions and following the safety guidelines to protect themselves and others.”
The number of positive cases nearly doubled in Wayne County last week, and had climbed to 224 with one death. The spike prompted a visit to Waynesboro by State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. During Dobbs’ Thursday meeting with Wayne County officials, Dobbs said that with the spike in confirmed cases Wayne County now is a “hot spot” for the virus.
“Wayne County has the highest per capita rate in the state, and that has happened just over the last two weeks,” Dobbs said. “The beds at the hospital are stressed and they ran out of ventilators recently.
“Part of this is that people are not taking it seriously.”
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Dobbs singled out Wayne County, causing many residents to complain that the area was being picked on. On Thursday, Dobbs said he hoped the strong words serve as a wakeup call for residents.
“I do hope this is a wakeup call, and that people know that we’re going to help,” he said. “In just the short time I’ve been here, you can tell that people love this community. That’s why they need to follow guidelines in order to protect each other.”
During the meeting, Wayne General Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Wesley Hendricks said the majority of cases involve African-Americans between the ages of 25-40. Wayne County Dist. 2 Supervisor Marvin Chapman said that didn’t surprise him.
Chapman said there have been large gatherings of people to host cookouts, basketball tournaments and other such events, which has probably contributed to the increase. One such large gathering was reportedly held between State Line and Buckatunna, in the Battles Community.
Dobbs said the numbers his department have been watching for Wayne County have been like none seen during the pandemic.
“We’ve never seen a 50 percent positive rate,” he said. “Your per capita cases are the highest in the state, and they are the highest by a lot.”
“When someone is heading to a party, then grandma or a parent needs to tell that person that if they go to the party they aren’t coming back into the house. We need the leaders, the pastors and everyone in a position of authority to get the word out that this is serious and everyone needs to take precautions.”
Hendricks and Dobbs both said that early response to the pandemic might have caused the public to relax a little, especially during the Memorial Day Weekend.
The rise in cases caused Gov. Tate Reeves to issue a new executive order on Friday, placing additional restrictions on Wayne County residents and businesses. Those restrictions include that group gatherings/activities shall be limited to a maximum of 10 participants indoors and a maximum of 20 participants outdoors, and that residents must wear face coverings when outdoors attending public events (including live auctions and flea markets.)
Supervisors move to prepare emergency beds in case of outbreak
The Greene County Board of Supervisors on Monday voted to request that the Town of Leakesville make the town’s community center on Center Street available as an emergency shelter in case of a local outbreak overwhelming the limited bed capacity at Greene County Hospital.
The plan to convert the community center to an emergency Covid-19 healthcare unit grew out of a planning meeting between local emergency management and public health and safety officials earlier this year. Officials say Monday’s move was strictly a precautionary measure, but Greene County Emergency Management Director Trent Robertson said plans can be quickly implemented to convert the facility into at least a 20-bed extension for the hospital to care for Covid-19 cases. Robertson said the facility was ideal for the purpose because of the bathroom and kitchen facilities as well as the relative ease of converting it for the emergency purpose.
“We hope and pray that it doesn’t come to that, but we have worked together to create a plan in case we do see our hospital capacity overwhelmed,” Robertson said. “The community center is ideal because of the handicap accessibility for the restrooms and showers.”
“Once again, this is just precautionary at this point, but I appreciate the hospital and community officials coming together to have a plan in place that we can quickly put into action if necessary.”
MSDH to begin releasing nursing home information
MSDH will being releasing the names of current long-term care facilities that have COVID-19 outbreaks on Wednesday.
“Beginning tomorrow, the names of these facilities will be posted on the MSDH website and updated daily,” MSDH officials said in a press release Tuesday afternoon. “Please keep in mind the list will include the name and county of the facility only, not a breakdown of the number of cases associated with each facility.”
The announcement comes after a Mississippi judges ruled last week that MSDH must respond to public records requests from a newspaper in Hattiesburg about long-term care facilities where outbreaks of the virus have occurred. Hinds County Chancery Judge Tiffany Grove granted an emergency injunction in favor of Hattiesburg Publishing, Inc., which owns and operates the Pine Belt News.
The Mississippi Public Records Act provides for the release of public documents already in existence, such as the list of LTCFs with COVID-19 outbreaks. The Hattiesburg news organization filed suit against MSDH after the state agency had initially declined to release the information requested in the newspaper’s public records request.
“Information requests for facility-specific data will have to be addressed at a later time,” MSDH said in the press release Tuesday. “The MSDH is not currently able to pull frontline epidemiological staff to perform such queries as they are focusing on contact tracing and case investigations.”