State officials set guidelines to prevent spread of coronavirus

Published 2:25 pm Thursday, March 12, 2020

Following Wednesday’s announcement of the first reported coronavirus — or COVID-19 — case in the state, Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs and Mississippi Emergency Management Association Executive Director Gregory S. Michel held a press conference Thursday announcing major updates and new community recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus.

“The Mississippi State Department of Health is expanding access to COVID-19 testing,” Dobbs said. “Physicians may now submit specimens to the Mississippi Public Health Laboratory or commercial labs without prior consultation with MSDH, just like any other lab test. This will streamline necessary testing as much as possible.

Additionally, Dobbs said the MSDH is expanding recommendations for long-term care visitors and mass social gatherings.

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“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,” he said.

Regarding mass gatherings, the MSDH recommends that individuals, communities and organizations take specific steps when determining their safety or the need for cancellation.

“Stay informed of the cases in your county and surrounding counties, and maintain social distancing as practical,” said Dobbs. “Our older population and chronically ill individuals should protect themselves by avoiding gatherings of more than 250 people.”

During the press conference, Dobbs also suggested any planned gatherings and events be limited to no more than 250 people.

Gov. Tate Reeves, who is traveling in Spain, and Dobbs have been working closely since the beginning of the outbreak.

“With the outbreak of the coronavirus spreading throughout the country and the world, we anticipated it eventually reaching Mississippi and planned ahead. When it comes to the health and safety of Mississippians, we’re not taking any chances,” Reeves said. “Thanks to the advance preparation and planning ahead of confirmed cases and Dr. Dobbs’s and Director Michel’s leadership, we are prepared to respond decisively and quickly. Mississippians should not panic — our approach will be calm and steady. We continue to prioritize our effort to protect public health and save lives.”

Michel says MEMA is moving to a Level-One Activation in response to COVID-19.

“This is a posturing move to make sure all of our emergency support functions are in place to assist the Mississippi State Department of Health,” Michel said. “This activation is not to create panic. We, at MEMA, are ready to coordinate with our county emergency management agencies and MSDH to ensure there are no unmet needs during the response and recovery from COVID-19.”

In response to the threat of COVID-19 spreading to those residents who are at most risk, the Mississippi State Department of Health is urging changes to how long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes conduct activities and admit visitors.

During a press conference Thursday, health officials suggested the following:

• MSDH recommends discontinuing group social activities.

• Consider restricting visitation until further notification.

• Post signs that discourage all non-essential visitation and discourage ill visitors from entering the facility.

• Keep all ill visitors away from the facility for at least 48 hours after symptoms resolve.

• Consider limiting visitation by children (especially during community-wide outbreaks) and the elderly or those with underlying medical problems that place them at risk.

• Postpone all groups (like school groups or church groups) from visiting facility — this goes along with discontinuing all group activities.

• Visitors should cover their coughs and be educated on the importance of hand hygiene.

• Make sure the facility has plenty of handwashing products and that visitors have access to them.

• Visitors should only visit their family members and should not have contact with other residents since they could spread the virus.

State health officials have said they are not sure as to how long these guidelines will be in place.