Stemming COVID-19 Transmission: “What we are doing now is not working”

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Unless more Mississippians step up and take personal responsibility for keeping themselves and others safe from COVID-19, hospitals won’t be able to give patients the care they need in the time frame that they need it.

“I’m convinced we cannot shelter in place, but I’m also convinced that what we are doing now is not working,” Dr. LouAnn Woodward, University of Mississippi Medical Center vice chancellor for health affairs, said Thursday at a news conference held at the School of Medicine.

Woodward and a panel of the state’s premier health care professionals came together in shared urgency to convey a united message: Wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid gatherings and wash hands frequently to stem transmission of the highly contagious virus. The virus’ spread in Mississippi is rampant, with new cases and deaths spiking. On Thursday, the state recorded 703 new infections and 16 additional deaths.

On Wednesday, five of the state’s largest hospitals had no available ICU beds, said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state health officer for the Mississippi State Department of Health. Four had 5 percent or less available, and another three had 10 percent or less available. “Our biggest medical institutions that take care of our sickest patients have no room,” Dobbs said.

The state is fifth in the nation per capita for COVID-19 infections, he said. Hospitals are bracing for an influx of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations following a lack of social distancing and mask-wearing over the long Fourth of July weekend.

“Now is the time for the hospitals to have to step up and try to counter the impacts of reckless social behavior,” Dobbs said. “We’re sending people out of state all the time because Mississippi hospitals cannot take care of Mississippi patients.”

“Our state is sick, and what we’re doing now is not working,” said Dr. Clay Hays, a Jackson cardiologist and president of the Mississippi State Medical Association.

Joining Woodward, Dobbs and Hays at the news conference were Dr. Anita Henderson, president-elect of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Dr. Bill Grantham, president of the Mississippi Academy of Family Physicians; Dr. Jonathan Wilson, UMMC chief administrative officer; Dr. Alan Jones, UMMC assistant vice chancellor for clinical affairs; Dr. Utsav Nandi, a UMMC emergency medicine physician and president-elect of the Mississippi Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians; and Dr. Calvin Thigpen, a UMMC internal medicine physician and governor of the Mississippi Chapter of the American College of Physicians.

Mississippi “is going to see a lot more deaths,” Dobbs said. The toll on Thursday stood at 1,204, with 33,591 people testing positive statewide. A total 686 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, plus another 255 suspected of having it and awaiting test results.

Unless transmission of the virus is sharply curtailed, hospitals simply won’t be able to keep up. “We’re flexing where we need to flex, but we’re running out of options,” Hays said.

Woodward, an emergency medicine physician who also serves as dean of the School of Medicine, said she doesn’t want a state mandate requiring masks. “However, if that’s what it takes for people in this state to realize we are serious, then I support a mandate,” she said. “I’d love for people to do it on their own, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.”

“We went from shelter in place to wide open,” Woodward said. “This is not about telling someone what they can and cannot do. It’s about navigating this pandemic. We can’t behave like things are normal. We need to quit acting like things are normal. They are not.”

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