Mississippi’s top health official: No magic bullet on virus, ‘solution is not to get infected’

Published 7:34 am Sunday, July 19, 2020

Mississippi is hiring more people to investigate the spread of COVID-19, but cases are expanding rapidly in the state and the work is outpacing the number of employees.

The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, is imploring the public to take precautions against the pandemic. Resources such as hospital beds, personal protective equipment and coronavirus tests can be exhausted.

“The solution is not to get infected,” Dobbs said Friday during a news conference with Gov. Tate Reeves.

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The pathway to avoid infection is to wear masks, stay at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart from other people and avoid groups, the physician said.

“Forgive my frustration that everybody wants the magic bullet of the contact tracing or the testing or the vaccine when the solution is just plainly obvious, in front of us for everyone to see,” Dobbs said. “And I’m baffled that the simplest of solutions is the one that we refuse to broadly adopt.”

At the beginning of the pandemic during the spring, Mississippi had about 200 contact tracers. They communicate with people who test positive for a particular disease to find out who they’ve been near; the tracers then reach out to those others and suggest they get tested or take steps such as isolating themselves while they could be contagious.

Dobbs said the department now has about 240 contact tracers and is in the process of hiring about 100 more. In addition, another state agency is having its employees pitch in on the work.

Mississippi has a population of about 3 million. The Health Department said Saturday that the state has had at least 41,836 confirmed cases and at least 1,346 deaths from the coronavirus as of Friday evening. That was an increase of 1,017 cases and 14 deaths from numbers reported the day before.

At least 3,142 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 647 virus-related deaths in those facilities, the department said.

The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older patients and those with other health problems.