Representatives from OCH Regional Medical Center and Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) met Friday at OCH to discuss the hospital’s preparedness plan for Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19).

“Although we haven’t had any cases reported in Mississippi, we would much rather be over-prepared than under-prepared,” said OCH Administrator/CEO Jim Jackson. “It is our responsibility as the local healthcare provider to be prepared to care for our community, and that’s not something we take lightly. Our staff has done a great job of being proactive, and we’re ready in the event the virus does spread to our area.”

The detailed plan of action discussed includes three main steps: identify persons at risk for infection, isolate using the appropriate infection control, and call the Mississippi State Department of Health.

“Our emergency department has added two questions for patients in our triage process—‘Have you traveled internationally?,’ and ‘have you been in close contact with a person known to have the virus?,’” stated OCH Acute Care Manager Eddie Coats, RN. “Patients who answer yes to either of those questions will immediately go to one of our airborne isolation rooms.”

Travelers returning to Mississippi from China are placed on home isolation where they will be monitored by MSDH for 14 days for symptoms, which include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If an individual develops symptoms, MSDH will notify the nearest healthcare facility of the need for evaluation and possible testing.

In a health alert to healthcare providers and hospitals across the state, MSDH said while COVID-19 cases have been reported, there is no ongoing sustained transmission within the US, and the risk of infection to the Mississippi public remains low.

Dr. Harry Holliday and Dr. Cameron Huxford, both board-certified in pulmonary disease and critical care, agree that while the coronavirus should be taken seriously, the flu is their main concern.

“The coronavirus that you’re hearing about in the news is a more recently identified type of the coronavirus, and I think the newness and unknown is what scaring people,” said Dr. Holliday. “Coronavirus is a general term meaning a large family of viruses.  Just like influenza has different strains such as Influenza A and Influenza B, this is a different strain of the coronavirus.”

“The seasonal flu poses a much bigger risk to the population we serve,” said Dr. Huxford. “To put it in perspective, in the United States, there have been less than 100 cases of the coronavirus; whereas, there have been an estimated 29 million cases of the influenza virus this year, with 16,000 flu-related deaths.”

In a press release issued by MSDH, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said the rate of flu among children and young adults is higher than in previous seasons, with 125 flu-related pediatric deaths nationwide. Dr. Byers said that number is abnormally high for this time of the season.

“We recommend getting vaccinated now if you haven’t already. Influenza vaccine is especially important for young children, pregnant women, those over 65, and those with underlying health problems,” said Dr. Byers. “Flu vaccine is the best way to protect both children and adults from serious complications such as hospitalization, and in many cases, death.”

Dr. Huxford and Dr. Holliday pointed out that with any viral infection, you should avoid close contact with people who are sick, practice good hand hygiene, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. They also stress that individuals who are sick should stay at home.

Individuals who have traveled out of the country within the past two weeks and develop symptoms should contact his/her doctor.

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