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Residents asked to help flatten curve

Only an estimated 10 percent of Pearl River County residents are complying with social distancing and shelter in place measures recommended by the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a predictive model being used by Highland Community Hospital.

Going from 10 percent of people sheltering at home, to 30 or 50 percent, could potentially save hundreds of lives, said Hospital Administrator Bryan Maxie.

“The number one thing that our population can control is the spread of this virus. The virus doesn’t spread itself. People spread the virus,” said Maxie. “This thing is serious. Nobody’s immune to it. Nobody’s bullet proof to it. The least amount of people you can come in contact with is the greatest opportunity that we have of not spreading the virus.”

Maxie said that the model currently forecasts the hospital reaching maximum capacity between mid April and mid May and that the healthcare system expects to be affected by the pandemic for the next three to four months. How long and to what degree local healthcare infrastructure is impacted by the pandemic is affected by how well people practice social distancing and sheltering at home, said Maxie. The estimated peak moves daily, but as of Tuesday the busiest time for county hospitals was forecast to occur between April 12 and May 15. Other counties in the state have seen tremendous spikes in the number of new COVID-19 cases from day to day, said Maxie.

People may feel fine and still be spreading the virus to those they come in contact with, he said. By staying at home, the community can reduce the number of people who become sick with COVID-19 and reduce the strain on local healthcare infrastructure.

“In the midst of this storm with the pandemic, you’ve also got everyday heart attacks, wrecks, strokes, the everyday traumas and things that you see come in, those we’ve still got to deal with too,” said Maxie.

With 30 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, Pearl River County is one of several counties in this state with a high number of COVID-19 cases.

Highland Community Hospital has tested 83 patients for COVID-19, of which 16 have tested positive, 15 tests are pending and 52 were negative. The hospital is treating three patients in house who tested positive for COVID-19 and treating eight patients in house whose test results are pending.

Hilghland has transferred seven COVID-19 positive cases to Forrest General for inpatient care. Patients are transferred from Highland with COVID-19 when they have severe cases and are seeing issues like organ failure from the disease, said Maxie. Those patients typically have co-morbidities or more complex cases prior to testing positive for COVID-19. Highland is typically able to treat patients with COVID-19 who were otherwise in good health, even if they need to be on a ventilator, said Maxie.

The county hospitals have enough staff, equipment and supplies to care for current patients, but hospital administration is scared by the predicted numbers of patients and the number of COVID-19 cases other cities are experiencing, said Maxie. The hospitals want to delay when the number of cases peak and slow down the spread of the disease.

Highland Community Hospital currently has nine ventilators. Five of those are normal ventilators and four are anesthesia machines that can be used as ventilators. The hospital has other pieces of equipment that can be mechanically adjusted to be used as ventilators, and would give them a total of 15 ventilators.

Highland is currently keeping enough personal protective equipment to stay two or three days ahead of what it uses, but as more patients come in, it will be harder to keep PPE in stock. Forrest Health has a group in Hattiesburg working to acquire PPE from vendors.

The hospital is testing ways to re-sterilize certain pieces of PPE, said Maxie, to help it stay properly equipped in the case that the hospital does run out. Hospitals in other areas of the country are running out of PPE and having to use equipment in ways that it would not normally be used, said Maxie.

“We pray that we don’t run out,” he said.

Both nursing homes in the Forrest Health system, including Pearl River County Nursing Home, remain closed to visitors in an effort to keep the facilities free of COVID-19.