By BECKY GILLETTE
As of March 3, the total number of people in the U.S. who had tested positive for the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) was 22, with three of those travel-related and nine believed to have spread person-to-person. The country had experienced its first two deaths. Those numbers don’t include the three cases from Americans who had traveled to Wuhan, China, the source of the outbreak, and the 44 repatriated to the U.S from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
While no cases had been reported in Mississippi, patients who tested positive for COVID-19 had been reported in seven others states primarily along the West Coast.
The number of people impacted so far has been small, but there is uncertainty about what the futures holds. That has had a chilling impact on business community. Concerns about a worldwide pandemic stoked emotional fears that caused U.S. stock markets the last week in February to experience the biggest one-week decline since the Great Recession in 2008.
“But individual risk is dependent on exposure,” the CDC said. “For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.”
Currently the biggest risk in Mississippi may be economic.
John McKay, president and CEO, Mississippi Manufacturers Association, said they have had no reports yet of Mississippi manufacturers being impacted by not being able to receive supply chain components from China and South Korea where many factories have been shuttered to restrain the spread of COVID-19.
“Manufacturers have months of lead time for supply chains,” McKay said. “But the fear is the longer this crisis continues, the impacts of supply chain disruption could be real and felt not just in America, but Mississippi, as well. The inventory management process is very critical to manufacturers, and any disruption of that chain can disrupt production schedules and impact costs. We are most concerned with the disruption of the supply chain for electronic and automotive components.”
McKay said manufacturers have redundancies built into the supply chain for events like natural disasters. The tsunami in Japan is an example. But there has never before been a disruption across the entire world.
“It is not to that level yet, but if reports of new infections continue on the current trajectory, there could be a global impact scenario,” McKay said. “The trends do not look great at this point. While supply chain and production schedules are vitally important, there is also a human element. Employees at our companies are the backbone of what we do. We are monitoring their safety and well-being to make sure they are able to continue to work.”
If COVID-19 becomes widespread, even workers who remain healthy could need time off to care for loved ones who are sick.
The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) is recommending people be calm.
“The main message is folks should not panic, but need to practice strong hygiene and stay educated,” said Liz Sharlot, director, Office of Communications, MSDH. “We are in peak season for flu – please get the flu shot. Stay home if you are ill.”
MSDH is working with hospitals, building up laboratory capacity, informing the public and working with other agencies (see HealthyMS.com/coronavirus). CDC protocols will be followed and the public notified if a case is reported in Mississippi.
“MSDH has plans in place and has worked in other public health situations similar to this one,” Sharlot said. “Mississippians can go to our Website (HealthyMS.com/coronavirus), sign up for our social media pages and definitely download our free MS Ready app (available in both android and Apple).”
Those at the biggest risk are healthcare workers. Hospitals are currently training healthcare workers and stocking up on supplies.
“Through our state’s Healthcare Preparedness Program (HPP), health care workers receive ongoing training on how to prepare for emergencies and disasters of all kinds, from hurricanes to the coronavirus,” said Joyce Pearson, RN-BC, MSN, director, Office of Healthcare Emergency Preparedness, MS Hospital Association Health, Research & Education Foundation. “Healthcare workers are trained in best practices for prevention of infectious disease and continue to implement these practices. This month, HPP provided training around the state on best practices for healthcare workers to respond to a surge of patients with medical needs. Our state’s hospitals are also following CDC guidelines and are working closely with the MSDH.
Pearson said hospitals are monitoring and observing current recommendations for maximizing use of available supplies and equipment.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center has processes in place to identify who should be screened for COVID-19, as well as to answer questions from patients, families and friends, said Dr. Jason Parham, director of the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
The Medical Center is actively preparing should it receive a patient with COVID-19, said Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele, medical director of Infection Prevention.
“Infection Prevention, along with the Mississippi Center for Emergency Services and other key leaders, are making sure that if we identify a case, we will take the proper steps to minimize risk to other patients and staff,” she said.
There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19, which has symptoms that include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Most sufferers experience mild illness and recover with supportive care, Parham said.
“There have been cases with severe respiratory illness, mostly pneumonia, requiring hospitalization,” he said. “Severe illness appears to be most frequently seen in those with underlying chronic conditions.”
If you have had a cold or cough, it could have been caused by a coronavirus– just not the COVID-19 strain.
“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses,” Parham said. “Some cause respiratory illness in humans. Numerous other coronaviruses circulate among animals, including camels, cats and bats. And in rare situations, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread from person to person, he said. That was the case with the coronaviruses Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in 2003 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, in 2012. The earliest patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in Wuhan City reportedly had a link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread.”
Currently in the U.S., only the CDC is conducting testing, using multiple specimens from sites including lower respiratory, upper respiratory and blood serum. MSDH is expected to be equipped for laboratory testing for COVID-19 in coming weeks.
At present screenings have only been recommended only for someone with a history of travel from Hubei Province, China (where the virus originated), a required hospitalization and a history of travel to mainland China, or close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient while not wearing person protective equipment. Those recommendations apparently led to a delay of several days testing a patient in California who has tested positive for COVID-19 without having any history of travel to China or known contact with someone with COVID-19.
“Doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center, where the patient is being treated, said testing was delayed for nearly a week because the patient didn’t fit restrictive federal criteria, which limits tests only to symptomatic patients who recently traveled to China,” according to an article in ProPublica titled “Key Missteps at the CDC Have Set Back Its Ability to Detect the Potential Spread of Coronavirus, The CDC designed a flawed test for COVID-19, then took weeks to figure out a fix so state and local labs could use it. New York still doesn’t trust the test’s accuracy.”
The article by the non-profit news organization said many public health experts believe that without wider testing, the true number of infected Americans remains hidden.
CDC states it’s important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic.
“The potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States,” CDC said. “More cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. It’s also likely that person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in the United States.
“Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, workplaces, and other places for mass gatherings may experience more absenteeism. Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and transportation industry may also be affected. Healthcare providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. Nonpharmaceutical interventions would be the most important response strategy.”
The CDC emphasizes that this virus is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States.
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