Mississippi physician warns ‘you will be fooled’ by official coronavirus case numbers, believes actual is much higher

Published 10:50 am Friday, March 27, 2020

The spread of COVID-19 in Adams County is far greater than what the state is reporting, a local physician told officials during a special-called meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen Thursday.

Dr. Blane Mire of Internal Medicine Associates was invited to the meeting to offer his view of the COVID-19 situation in the area during the board’s discussion of the city’s “Stay at Home” order and the possibility of amending the order.

“If you look at the state website today and look at the numbers in Adams County, you will be fooled,” Mire said during Thursday morning’s meeting, which was hosted via teleconference. “It says two cases. First of all, let me tell you that is wrong. We figured out why that is wrong after many phone calls.”

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Mire said he works out of his own clinic and the Natchez After Hours Clinic, both of which were recently equipped as testing centers for COVID-19.

“Just to let you know where we are right now, I had two positive cases yesterday. I still have about 40 tests I’m waiting on from the clinic alone. The hospital is waiting on several themselves. We have three patients confirmed on ventilators in our hospital. So you can do the math.

“We found out that some of the labs … that were recommended to us have been overwhelmed and they are actually not reporting positive tests. You can at least triple the cases we know of as of this morning.”

Merit Health Natchez released a statement after Thursday’s meeting and confirmed that three patients at the hospital had tested positive for COVID-19 and hospital CEO Lance Boyd stated that fewer than 15 patients in the hospital have had the risk factors or symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

As of Thursday morning, three cases of the virus had been confirmed in Adams County by the Mississippi Department of Health.

“For the last several days, our hospital has been working collaboratively with the Mississippi State Department of Health while testing was completed for patients who presented to our facility with risk factors and symptoms consistent with those associated with novel coronavirus,” Merit Health officials stated. “The test results have confirmed three patients have COVID-19. The patients have been separated from other patients in isolation rooms which only a small team of caregivers can access and they remain in our care. … Our hospital continually works to be prepared for all types of infectious diseases such as measles, flu or new viruses like coronavirus (COVID-19). We have taken proactive steps to prepare for the protection of patients, our caregivers and the community, and monitoring ongoing COVID-19 updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We are reviewing our inventory and protocols regularly as CDC guidance is revised and we continue to work with the MS Department of Health and our local Emergency Management Team. We have sufficient inventory and staff at this time.”

In Thursday’s meeting, Mire said the tested cases would not include the vast majority of those individuals who would be infected with COVID-19 and, while still contagious, only display minor symptoms.

“Ninety-five percent of those who are exposed to this and become positive are not going to be hospitalized,” Mire said. “The good majority of those folks are younger folks, are healthy and may not have any symptoms. Most infected have a low-grade fever or what seems like seasonal allergies, which is obviously complicating symptoms right now.

“The 5% is all it takes to overwhelm our hospital. Every bed that has been allocated with special conditions — isolated rooms to try and protect our hospital environment and to protect our staff — every one of those beds is full with someone with positive suspicion for COVID-19.”

While Merit Health Currently has enough personal protective equipment — face masks, gloves, gowns and other gear used to protect hospital employees — Mire said other hospitals across the nation are concerned with shortages.

Mire said there are also a limited number of ventilators and intubating kits at the hospital, adding if there is an uptick in the number of COVID-19 patients then there may not be enough equipment to go around.

“If we start going back to any normalcy of being out and about, this thing is going to have a huge upsurge,” Mire said. “Folks who are 50 and above or have an immune system that is compromised are going to get extremely sick and are going to come into our hospital. Certainly, the numbers are going to bud out. … We are not even close to coming to a peak here in Natchez. If you look at all the models, we are looking at another three or four weeks down the road for that to happen across Mississippi. … It’s all about what we do. … We have to continue the process of hygiene and social distancing.”