All eyes on coronavirus. Where is Mississippi most at risk?

Published 11:35 am Friday, February 28, 2020

The world epicenter for the coronavirus outbreak that has gripped the world is nearly 8,000 miles from Mississippi, but the fear of the virus potentially coming to the Magnolia State is real.

As of Friday morning, no cases of coronavirus have been detected in Mississippi, but that hasn’t stopped fear to cause anxiety and kick preparation into gear.

While Mississippi would seem relatively isolated from the biggest likely threats from the coronavirus, several potential weak spots exist in which the disease could infiltrate Mississippi.

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Those include:

Tourism hot spots:
Several corners of Mississippi are magnets for overseas tourists coming to enjoy the South — historic river towns, the Gulf Coast and the Missisippi Delta to name a few.

Cities along the Mississippi River including Natchez and Vicksburg regularly host foreign tourists, many of whom come on tourism river boats going up and down the river.

The concern is causing some communities to organize now to be prepared in case a coronavirus is detected.

The City of Natchez recently announced it was forming a coronavirus preparedness task force, Mayor Darryl Grennell announced Wednesday.

“This is not a call to panic, but a call to prepare,” Grennell said. “Coronavirus has been around a long time, but as is the case with influenza, new strains of coronavirus pop up periodically. COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus strain.”

The mayor said the formation of the task force was after the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention issued public warnings for Americans to be prepared.

Mississippi’s public universities pose a risk due to both international travel and study abroad programs of its students as well as foreign nationals who are enrolled in classes in Mississippi.

Earlier this week, officials with the University of Southern Mississippi reported that approximately 51 students and 11 faculty and guests are self-monitoring for signs of the disease after they traveled to South Korea in mid-February.

South Korea has seen a recent outbreak of the disease. The U.S. CDC issued a “Level 3” travel warning on Monday advising all non-essential travel to the country be postponed.

“USM informed the (state health) department of recent choir performances by students in South Korea that concluded prior to Monday’s announcement, but nevertheless requested recommendations for action by faculty and staff who traveled for the performance,” a statement from USM spokesman Jim Coll read. “The Department of Health, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control, has advised the University that the students are at a low risk for infection.”

So far, none of the students have reported any symptoms.

Experts say to be prepared, but use common sense

Mississippi epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers with the Mississippi Department of Health said in a press conference this week that while preparsion people stay focused on the current influenza outbreak across the state,

“It looks like more than likely this is going be transmitted very similarly to flu, probably about the same transmission rate as influenza,” Byers said in a press conference Thursday. “For a case of flu, each individual case can infect two to three people.”

The CDC suggests the following common sense tactics to minimize health risks:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
  • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
  • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.