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COVID-19

Doctor says Merit Health River Region is ready for COVID-19

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Dr. Carlos Latorre, far right, waits for his turn at the mic on Sunday, March 29. Vicksburg Fire Chief Craig Danczyk and Police Chief Milton Moore are on the left behind Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. at the podium. (Photo by Thomas Parker)

Mississippi Medicaid Director and Vicksburg family practitioner Dr. Carlos Latorre believes Merit Health is ready for COVID-19.

“Our hospitals are doing well,” Latorre said Sunday during a press conference with Vicksburg and Warren County officials. “We have enough beds, enough staff and enough ventilators.”

Latorre, who also serves on Mississippi’s COVID-19 task force, said about 20 percent of COVID-19 patients will be hospitalized, and 3 to 5 percent will not recover from the virus. Out of the 847 cases reported to date in Mississippi, 195 have required hospitalization, or 23 percent, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health website.

Normally, when health professionals place a patient on a ventilator, they stay on the breathing device for two to four days, the doctor said. For severe cases of COVID-19, which frequently presents as pneumonia in both lungs, patients are staying on ventilators for two weeks straight and some even longer.

“I think Merit Health is ready,” Latorre said. “Vicksburg is a hub for our area. Port Gibson, Issaquena County, Rolling Fork—if people get sick, and they need a higher level of care their facilities can’t provide, they come to Merit Health, and we don’t see that changing.”

With four testing sites in Vicksburg, Latorre said health-care professionals have tested over 100 individuals and two have come back positive.

The first known case in Warren County was an inmate who tested positive for COVID-19 last Thursday. Latorre said that the county where a person is tested is not necessarily where the case is counted. That particular case was added to Rankin County’s total as that is the inmate’s permanent address.

Warren County does, however, have a a confirmed case: A 45-year-old woman who likely contracted the virus when she recently visited New Orleans.

Vicksburg Fire/EMS transported the woman to the hospital.

“Once we got confirmation the 45-year-old female did test positive, we monitored our staff closely for symptoms,” Fire Chief Craig Danczyk said, “and that worked and was very positive. And most of that is because of the precautions we are taking to keep our equipment and workstations sanitized.”

Danczyk said he has canceled vacations for Vicksburg’s first responders to ensure the community is well served during the pandemic.

John Elfer, Warren County Emergency Management director, said he has worked closely with the Mississippi State Department of Health and other state officials to bring drive-through free testing to Vicksburg. As a result, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and MSDH is hosting a one-day testing clinic on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Latorre believes Warren County will see an increase in COVID-19 numbers due the availability of free testing, but getting quick results could be an issue.

“We are having tests that are not coming back as quickly as we would like,” Latorre said. “Some are taking seven to nine days for us to get the results.”

Waiting that long can be challenging and stressful for health professionals and for patients waiting to learn the results.

Above all else, Latorre, Danczyk and Elfer urge people to stay indoors if they have the ability to do so.

“The majority of the population has complied” with social-distancing recommendations, Danzyck said. “I see a limited number of cars on the road. I think the public has responded positively to the measures taken.”

Danczyk reminded the public to only call 911 if it is an emergency. Warren County E-911 has had an increased number of callers during the pandemic. He also asked callers to be be patient with the dispatcher, as they are instructed to ask questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms before dispatching emergency personnel.

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