State to open up drive-through coronavirus test site at Mississippi fairgrounds

Published 3:46 pm Friday, March 20, 2020

A drive-through testing center for the coronavirus will open Tuesday on the Mississippi State Fairgrounds in Jackson, but it is by appointment only and people will need to answer questions to be screened for an appointment, health officials said Friday.

Other drive-through centers are already operating in some parts of the state, including Tupelo, Philadelphia and Batesville.

The testing site in Jackson will be operated by the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi State Department of Health. Up to 128 appointments a day will be available for people who show symptoms of the virus, including fever.

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To get an appointment, people must answer questions either by telephone or by using a health app created by C Spire, a Mississippi-based wireless provider.

“If you do not do that and you just show up at the testing site, you will not be tested,” said Dr. Alan Jones, head of emergency medicine at UMMC.

Screening by phone call or app begins Monday, and appointments begin Tuesday. Officials said the testing site could be closed during thunderstorms or other dangerous weather.

Mississippi reported 80 cases of the new coronavirus as of Friday, up from 50 Thursday. The state Health Department said 775 people had been tested in Mississippi by Friday.

A Mississippi man died of the new coronavirus in a Louisiana hospital, the Mississippi State Department of Health said Thursday. The department said the Hancock County resident was between 60 and 65 years old and had an underlying medical condition.

A growing number of Mississippi cities are closing bars and telling restaurants to either limit or temporarily stop dine-in options because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Casinos in the state are closed, and auto manufacturing plants will shut down temporarily.

The vast majority of people infected with this novel coronavirus get only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover in about two weeks. But many will need hospitalization. Particularly vulnerable are older adults and those with existing health problems who can develop severe complications, including pneumonia.

The Mississippi state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said Friday that some people who have sought testing so far are the “worried well.” He urged people to practice social distancing and to wash their hands to slow the spread of the virus.

“It’s going to be a hard few weeks, for sure … but the main thing right now is to cut this epidemic off,” Dobbs said.

The mayor of Jackson issued an order banning gatherings of 10 or more people. The co-owner of three Jackson-area restaurants said he and his partner made the difficult decision to close all three outlets until the virus threat passes. Jeff E. Good said they first tried to limit service to carry-out orders.

“We just didn’t see how we could still prepare food and deliver it to you curbside, since by definition we were not practicing any social distancing and had many folks involved in the make, bake and take process,” Good wrote on Facebook.

Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday that public schools will be closed until at least April 17 to curb the spread of the virus.