Despite evidence, doctors concerned public isn’t taking COVID-19 seriously

Published 7:20 pm Monday, January 18, 2021

With the number of COVID-19 cases in Warren County exceeding 3,500 and the county’s death toll from the disease approaching 100, city and county officials and local doctors are concerned that some residents still are not taking the virus seriously.

“It’s unfortunate there are people who think this is made up, but it’s real,” said Vicksburg physician Dr. Carlos Latorre. “What I tell people is take the precautions to the best of their ability. Some people take precautions and others choose not to do anything.

“I think if somebody is ill (with the virus) and has a rough time with it or lost loved ones, that will make a believer out of anyone. It’s sad it has to be that way.”

Part of the current spike in cases can be traced back to gatherings over the Christmas holidays.

“Christmas was a disaster,” Vicksburg physician Dr. Dan Edney said. “We had way too many older folks gathering with their families and had a lot of family transmissions. A lot of older folks got sick and a few have died. We’re starting to calm down from that Christmas wave but the numbers are still, statewide, atrocious. Not as bad as they were but still too high. The death rate is still too high.”

As of Friday, there have been 3,548 reported cases of COVID-19 and 103 deaths from the virus in Warren County since the pandemic began in March. Statewide, the totals are 261,167 and 5,713, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Warren County Coroner Doug Huskey said Friday he has worked 25 COVID-19-related deaths. Not all, he said, are from Warren County. The out-of-county deaths — from places like Claiborne County, Ferriday, La., and other counties and parishes surrounding Warren County — are counted in the area where the person lived.

“Some of them have been at the hospital and some at home,” he said, adding some of the victims in the home had been under hospice care.

“The deaths that are out of county are not counted here,” Huskey said. The death certificate, he said, lists the cause of death as “acute respiratory distress syndrome, pneumonia, COVID-19.”

Edney said the skepticism about COVID-19 is baffling considering the amount of information about the disease and its effect on the healthcare system.

“Some people are just choosing not to listen, or not to believe, or putting their head in the sand and believe it’s not going to happen to them,” he said. “Six months ago, very few people had any association with it; they didn’t know anybody who had had it. Certainly, no one in their family had it.

“But now, if you have had no exposure to COVID from your family, your friends or co-workers, if you’ve had no impact from it, if you don’t know anybody at this point who’s had it, then you’re atypical and blessed.”

One of the issues that make the disease so serious, Latorre said, is the virus does not affect everyone the same way.

“You can never tell who is having a serious reaction,” he said. “Some people have it and it’s really mild and then some people have it and they end up in the hospital. We’re not quite sure why some people are more affected than others. Obviously, the older we are and people who have other chronic medical conditions are predisposed to do worse.

“But there have been healthy people who have no medical problems and they end up in the hospital and some have died so it’s really hard to tell why some people are more affected than others,” Latorre said. “We have an idea of things that can happen but we don’t know what’s going to happen to every person. It obviously affects their breathing and that’s a very serious thing.”

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, who with his wife are recovering after testing positive for the virus, said the effect it can have on breathing, “Is the scariest thing about the virus.”

There are other unpleasant effects, however.

“My wife lost her sense of smell and taste and had aches and pains,” Mayfield said. “I had excruciating pains, chills and sweats that left my whole body absolutely soaked.”

Mayfield said his case started with a hard, dry cough. Then he woke up early one morning “and you could literally ring the water out of my hair and clothes.”

Mayfield said he has warned people to protect themselves from the virus by wearing face masks, washing their hands and social distancing.

“I will tell anybody personally it’s real,” Mayfield said. “I can’t say where I or my wife got it. All I can tell you is the effects of it and it’s nothing nice. You don’t know what it’s going to do to your body. Nobody can tell you what it’s going to do to your body and that is the scariest part. You get it, you fight it and you pray you come through it.”

And the virus’ potential lingering effects are still unknown.

A lot of people recover well from the virus, Latorre said, but some who had it are now dealing with other health issues. Some people, when they get over it, have residual problems they didn’t have before.

“The immediate threat is to breathing,” Latorre said. “As time goes by there will be people who will suffer with those medical problems for a long time. As time goes on, we’re learning more (about the virus).”

But COVID-19, Edney said, is not just an infection of the lungs.

“This virus loves to go after the brain, the heart, the kidneys and the liver,” he said. “I’ve seen multiple patients who have had multiple organs involved. The brain is one of the scarier organs to be involved.”

One aspect of the disease that is not discussed, Edney said, is the morbidity or long-term health consequences of the virus after someone has recovered.

“We’ve had people who have had strokes because of it, people who have had heart failure because of it, people who have had neurologic damage they can’t recover from,” he said. “We have people who have never recovered their sense of smell and that’s not a little thing if you can’t smell for the rest of your life.

“It’s going to be very expensive for our health care system for a long time,” Edney added.

Presently, Latorre said, “The main goal is keeping people healthy and the ones who are sick, treating them from the house so they don’t end up in the hospital.”

Vaccinations will work when people take it, he said, but even if someone is vaccinated “they still have to take precautions because the vaccine is meant to prevent getting the virus but if you do get it you get a milder form so you don’t go the hospital.”

Vaccinations, Edney said, are critical to getting the virus under control. More than 100,000 people in Mississippi have received their first of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine needed for immunity, Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday. The Mississippi State Department of Health reported that more than 9,700 people in the state have already received both shots.

“The vaccination is critically important to protect our most vulnerable, but to have herd immunity we have to vaccinate,” Edney said. “If we can get 50 percent of our population vaccinated or COVID recovering we can achieve herd immunity.”

He added there is an effective treatment for COVID in Vicksburg — monochromal antibody therapy.

The key to breaking down the wall of skepticism, Edney said, is for more people who have either recovered from the disease or lost loved ones to it to speak out.

“More people need to be vocal in the community — this thing is dangerous, it’s killing folks it does not need to kill. We need to be more public,” he said. “The best way to fight COVID is not get it.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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