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Board of Supervisors hear COVID-19 update, adopt new COVID policy for employees

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors adopted a new COVID-19 policy for county employees based on recommendations from State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs and heard an update on COVID-19 from the local hospital administrator.

Highland Community Hospital Administrator Bryan Maxie gave the Board an update on COVID-19 locally and answered questions.

The number of cases in Pearl River County is steadily climbing. Cases in the county are as bad as they have ever been and are expected to get worse in the near future, said Maxie. Approximately 80 Forrest Health staff members in the county have tested positive for COVID. Maxie urged people to wear masks, sanitize their hands, practice social distancing and limit holiday gatherings.

“It’s not going away and it’s as bad right now as it’s ever been and I look for it to be worse in the next couple months,” he said.

The county has seen a third spike in COVID-19 cases after Halloween and the number of cases continued to go up in November and after Thanksgiving.

Forrest Health is expected to get the first round of COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 15, said Maxie. The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at a very cold temperature, and three facilities are being equipped with freezers to handle the vaccine: Highland Community Hospital in Picayune, Forrest General in Hattiesburg and Marion General in Columbia.

Forrest General is expecting to receive 975 doses, but they do not know yet how many doses the smaller facilities will receive, Maxie said. He expects Picayune’s hospital will receive fewer doses than Forrest General.

Frontline care workers will receive vaccines first and it will be a while before the general public gets it, he said. Maxie pointed out that the second round of vaccines that Forrest General receives will go to the same people who receive the first round, because people have to take two doses.

Maxie said he believes Walgreens will handle administering the vaccines at nursing homes. He does not know yet how many vaccines will be allotted for the Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home.

Maxie said that all Forrest Health facilities have beds available, but facilities are also staying fairly full. Forrest General has 60 ICU beds, and goes in and out of critical care diversion. On Sunday night, it was on critical care diversion. At times, that 60 bed ICU has had 30 to 40 COVID-19 patients in it.

Highland Community Hospital has a 49 bed capacity and has been in the high 40s and on some days reaching capacity. There are beds available, but availability has been slim, Maxie said.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs recently issued an updated advisory on social gatherings, said Maxie. The advisory recommends Mississippi residents avoid social gatherings with people outside of their household, including sporting events, in-person church services, weddings and funerals unless they involve only close family.

In a separate matter, the Board adopted a new COVID-19 protocol for county employees. Previously the policy had been to send employees who test positive for COVID-19 home for 14 days. The new policy will instead require employees to stay home for 10 days after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms or after a positive COVID-19 test. The employee will not need a negative COVID-19 test before coming back to work, but must be fever free for 24 hours.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin recommended the policy change based on recommendations in an order from Dobbs.