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Sunday Focus: Local doctors see uptick in virus cases among young adults

NATCHEZ — A rise in COVID-19 cases in young people in the Miss-Lou has prompted local doctors to renew pleas for masks and social distancing.

“We are clearly seeing an uptick in cases,” Dr. Kenneth Stubbs said Thursday morning.

A partner at Internal Medicine Associates in Natchez, Stubbs said the increase suggests that younger people are moving around more and participating in social gatherings.

“It doesn’t appear that the cases are from casual contact,” Stubbs said. “People are staying together, in close contact for long periods of time without a mask on.”

Dr. Blane Mire, who is a partner in the same clinic, said the clinic in the last two weeks has seen approximately 25 suspected virus cases among people who are between the ages of 18 and 30 years old.

Dr. Lee England, a member of the city’s coronavirus taskforce, said he has also heard reports of an increase among young adults, but said most of Southwest Mississippi “is in something of a lull.”

“The overall cases have gone down to low-grade background noise,” England said. “The rest of Mississippi is on fire. If you look at the state on a per capita basis, Mississippi is one of the nation’s hot spots.”

England said the growth of virus cases in Adams County, Wilkinson County and Franklin County has been relatively low compared to the rest of the state.

“We are still getting admissions at the hospital, but it is at a low,” England said.

England said he hopes virus case numbers continue to be low in Natchez and the surrounding area but realizes that could easily change.

“If we keep up the discipline we might miss a second wave,” England said.

Reports of a rise in cases among young adults, suggests that some people may not be as disciplined as England hopes.

Stubbs said the biggest culprits in the current spread of the virus appear to be people who are either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, who are unknowingly spreading the virus.

“It appears as if it is from people who don’t know they are ill,” Stubbs.

Stubbs said reports have shown that people who have the virus but are not showing symptoms are as contagious as those who are showing symptoms.

“Studies have shown that the viral load is just as high in asymptomatic people as in those that are already showing symptoms,” Stubbs.

Mire said just having one asymptomatic person in a social gathering can put a large number of people at risk.

Mire said recent events in Oxford and the University of Mississippi show how the virus can be spread in just a short period.

“I have been privy to what is happening in Oxford, because my son, who is a student at Ole Miss is in the middle of it,” Mire said.

Mire said it didn’t take long for the virus to be spread after students started going to bars and other social gatherings.

“Students came back to campus to their apartments to get away from their parents,” Mire said. “At least one came back with COVID-19.”

Because bars are closing early during the pandemic, many students have been going back to their apartments for big social gatherings, Mire said.

“In a two-week period, they had 100-plus cases of the virus,” Mire said. “That is an example that could be replicated here if we are not careful.”

Both Stubbs and Mire said that most of the virus cases among young adults in the Miss-Lou are not serious cases that require hospitalization.

“We haven’t had severely sick patients that end up on the ventilator,” Mire said.

That doesn’t mean that younger people are not being hospitalized with the virus, Stubbs said.

“There is no guarantee that just because you are young, you are not going to get really sick,” Stubbs said.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reports that 311 out of the 3,044 patients (10.2%) that have been hospitalized since the COVID-19 pandemic started were between the ages of 18 and 40 years-old.

Stubbs said although most young people are not getting “super-duper” sick, it doesn’t mean that contracting the virus will not have long-term repercussions.

Stubbs said historically viruses have been connected to other diseases. For example, some studies point to a connection between the 1918 influenza pandemic and Parkinson’s disease, Stubbs said.

“We do not know what effect this virus will have down the road,” Stubbs said.

Mire said the virus has already been connected to a vascular inflammatory condition among some patients, including younger patients. Some patients with the inflammatory condition have had fevers, rashes and other vascular complications, including unexplained blood clots that compromise blood flow.

“These symptoms are occurring after they have recovered from COVID-19,” Mire said.

England said there is so much about the virus that is not known and will not be known for many months or years down the road.

All three doctors said their biggest concern now is the potential for young adults who are asymptomatic to spread the disease to the area’s more vulnerable populations.

England said young adults need to consider the risks involved.

“What about your mom or your dad? What about your grandparents? Or what if you do get it bad?” England said.

Mire said everyone needs to continue to wash hands frequently, practice social distancing and wear a mask in public in order to keep the virus at bay.

“Wearing a mask is not that much of an inconvenience,” Mire said.

Whether in the office or in a local shop or grocery store, Mire said wearing a mask sends a positive message to co-workers and other people.

“It says that you care for them and have respect for them,” Mire said.

England said some people have attempted to turn the virus into politics.

“It is not a game,” England said. “It is like sniper out there and it is picking us off one by one.”

England said residents need to continue to maintain discipline in order to prevent a second wave of cases. The current low number of cases in Southwest Mississippi provides the area with an opportunity that is rare.

“We are at a turning point — a moment of truth,” England said. “If we maintain discipline (Natchez) will be a great place for others to come to during the epidemic.”

“A small group can mess it up for everyone,” England said.