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Officials: Local hospital workers faced most challenging week

NATCHEZ — Last week has been the most challenging yet since the COVID-19 outbreak began in February for healthcare workers at Merit Health Natchez Hospital, said CEO Lance Boyd during a Monday meeting of the Natchez COVID-19 Task Force.

“In March and April we thought we were at our high-water mark, and we actually achieved that mark on Tuesday with 16 positive patients in-house,” Boyd said. “The main difference is now we only have one positive patient on the ventilator, whereas back in March we had nine.”

The strain has lessened slightly since Tuesday with only 11 COVID-19 patients being treated in-house on Monday, Boyd said.

As knowledge about COVID-19 grows, hospital staff have changed their treatment regime and are treating patients with remdesivir, convalescent plasma, steroid inhalers and other medications in hopes of keeping them from having to use a ventilator, Boyd said.

Meanwhile, rapid testing is also being utilized routinely for all surgery patients before they go to the operating room along with other measures the hospital is taking to prevent spreading the disease, Boyd said.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson opened Monday’s Task Force meeting with a statement about the rapid spread of the disease in the state, the impact it is having on the hospital and the need for preventative measures — including wearing masks.

“Just this past weekend, a heart attack patient was taken to Jackson because there was no room for them in our local hospital at Merit Health. The ICU was full,” Gibson said. “This is what happens when we put stress on our healthcare system. … Wearing a mask is a simple ask. If it can save lives, let’s do it.”

Dr. Blane Mire, of Internal Medicine Associates, said he has seen more and more asymptomatic patients testing positive, which affirms the likelihood of people unwittingly spreading the disease by not taking precautions.

Boyd said the strain on the hospital might go unseen by someone walking around and seeing empty beds as many patients delay their routine care out of fear.

“Just because we have an empty room does not mean that room is appropriate for the level of care that a patient needs. Not all patients are in an ICU room,” Boyd said. Boyd said the nurse to room ratio is also a factor as there may not be enough ICU nurses with the appropriate training to provide the level of care that is needed.

“You cannot place a patient anywhere in any bed because not all patients are the same. They require a different set of care and a different level of training,” he said.

During Monday’s Task Force meeting, Norma Williams said the county has had 88 new cases recorded since last week — July 26 through Aug. 1 — which is an 18% increase in cases compared to the previous week’s 22% increase.

With three new deaths reported in the same week and a total of 25 COVID-19 deaths reported, the case fatality rate in the county is now at 4.3%, Williams said.

Concordia Parish had 40 new cases and an 18% increase in cases in the same seven-day period, Williams said.

Neifa Hardy, Adams County Emergency Management and Liaison Officer, said as of Monday, the county had 134 active COVID-19 cases.