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Football championship could send Pearl River County fans to a ‘hotbed’ of COVID

With holiday gatherings, flu season and changing weather, COVID-19 cases have begun to spike in Pearl River County. Highland Community Hospital’s administration is worried the weekend’s state football championship games will make that spike worse.

“We are seeing a rise in cases, everywhere in our system…we’re reaching levels that if we’re not at our highest level right now, we will be shortly,” said Bryan Maxie, Highland Community Hospital Administrator.

The county reached its highest level of COVID-19 cases in March and April near the start of the pandemic, and had another spike after July 4th. A third spike has already begun, said Maxie, and he expects it to get worse with holiday gatherings.

Thanksgiving gatherings have already had a major impact on the number of people coming into the Forrest Health system with COVID-19, said Maxie.

“Flu season and Thanksgiving gatherings has me really worried that we will see the largest numbers that we’ve seen so far, by far.”

Maxie is worried that attendance at the state football championships will increase the spread of COVID-19.

“One thing that scares me a lot is the state championship football games. We’ve got two schools that are in counties that we serve. Poplarville High School and Lumberton High School are in our service area. Both of those teams are participating in championship games, which is in Hinds County. Hinds County is the number two highest county in the state of Mississippi,” said Maxie.

As of Nov. 14, Hinds County had a test positivity rate of 10.7 percent, making it a red county, according to data from the Mississippi State Department of Health.

“Both of those towns support their teams tremendously. Those people will be going up there to support their teams. They’re going into one of the biggest hotbeds of COVID in the state,” said Maxie.

The inpatient volume of COVID positive patients is close to Highland’s all time high, said Maxie. The hospital is better equipped to treat COVID-19 now than at the start of the pandemic because more is known about the virus, but Maxie believes the public has grown tired of taking measures to prevent the spread, leading to a high numbers of new cases. He attributes many of the new cases to gatherings.

“I think people need to feel comfortable that they have facilities here that providers know how to take care of it, prescribe what they need, but I also think people need to be scared. You don’t want to put panic out here, but this thing is real and we’re reaching what might become our overall high, during these holidays. People need to respect that, try to protect anybody from getting this.”

Maxie urges people who are older than 65 not to take any risks with COVID.

“Don’t take any risk. Don’t take any risk whatsoever. Don’t go unmasked into places. Have people deliver stuff to you.”

“The 40 and overs have got to understand, they’re in a level there that’s got to take stronger protection. If you’re not worried about yourself because you think you’re young and healthy, carrying it and giving it to the older people is what’s happening. That’s where the problem is.”

Currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Highland are evenly split between people who are older than 65 and people in their 40s and 50s, said Chief Nursing Officer Suzanne Wilson.

Wilson urges people to wear their masks, especially indoors in large groups like in a classroom, at a meeting or at a store.

People with underlying conditions like diabetes, heart conditions, who are smokers or have COPD are at especially high risk of having a serious complication from COVID.

“If you get COVID on top of that, you better get care in a hurry, because you can go from standing here talking to each other and in a matter of hours be fighting for your life,” said Maxie.

The hospital’s ICU has had more patients in 2020 than in the past two or three years, said Maxie. If COVID patients get sick enough that they need a level of care Highland cannot provide, they are transferred to a different facility like Forrest General. Those transfers happen three to four times per week, he said.

How long a COVID-19 patient who needs to be hospitalized has to stay in the hospital depends on how sick they are and their prior health, and can be anywhere from seven to 28 days, said Maxie.

“We hope and pray that people will respect those things, and take every precaution they can to, one, keep from getting it, two, possibly spreading it if you don’t even know you got it, by staying away from social events outside of your immediate family.”