In the midst of what Forrest General Hospital Chief Medical Officer Steven Ferrell called “a state of emergency” with numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations on the rise, hospital officials are putting in place some stringent measures to ensure the safety of patients and staff.
During a news conference July 28 at the hospital, Ferrell and Dr. Bryan Batson - who serves as chief executive officer of Hattiesburg Clinic - announced that effective Aug. 2, patients will be limited to two visitors per day. Visitors will be temperature-screened, and will be allowed to enter only through the front entrance of the hospital.
Patients in obstetrics, pediatrics and the neonatal intensive care unit will be limited to two visitors who are 18 years of age or older. Emergency room patients will only be allowed one visitor, age 18 or older, per day.
“This is due in large part to the Delta variant (of COVID-19), which has proven itself to be far more infectious and far more serious than the previous COVID-19 virus,” Ferrell said. “There won’t be any exceptions (to this rule).
“We’re doing this in an effort to stem the possibility of patients or community members bringing COVID into our facility and infecting our staff and patients. We hope you understand.”
In addition, Forrest General staff who have not been vaccinated will be required to wear K95 or N95 masks to protect themselves and patients. That policy will go into effect August 16.
Forrest Health officials spent the morning of the news conference on calls with State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs and other health experts, who provided data showing that cases of COVID are rising precipitously across Mississippi. Currently, the largest number of hospitalizations are occurring among patients under the age of 40.
As of July 28, Forrest General had 52 inpatients being treated for COVID. Nineteen of those patients were in the Intensive Care Unit; nine were on a ventilator.
“There has been a lot of discussion about people - and lot of misinformation - about people who have been vaccinated being hospitalized,” Ferrell said. “Here, we see that about 10 percent of our hospitalized patients have previously received the vaccine; only one of those patients is in the ICU, and is not on a ventilator.
"We have been told that in the community, people say that most of the patients in the hospital who have COVID have been vaccinated. That is not true. The vaccine protects against serious illness for this virus, and we are urging everyone who is able to get the vaccine at the earliest opportunity.”
Throughout the entire Hattiesburg Clinic system during the months of May and June, officials were diagnosing, on average, 30 to 50 patients per week with COVID infections. Last week alone, that number rose to 469.
“We learned early in this pandemic that what occurs in the hospital setting can be forecasted in one to two weeks by events in the outpatient setting,” Batson said. “As COVID spreads through our community once again, case numbers rise, more people are hospitalized, need ICU beds, and die.
“Unfortunately, over the last few weeks, it is clear we are now in another wave, as we have been seeing a sharp rise in the case numbers in the outpatient setting. We haven’t seen numbers (this) high since January, when things were at their absolute worst. Even more concerning is that just in the first three days of this week so far, another 280 patients have been diagnosed with COVID just at Hattiesburg Clinic; over 85 percent of these positive cases have been in unvaccinated patients.”
Everyone 12 years of age and older is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. To find a location for vaccinations, visit www.vaccines.gov or call (800) 232-0233.
“Please take every precaution necessary,” Ferrell said. “Vaccinations will take a time to kick in, but get a vaccination.
“In the meantime, you can do your part by voluntarily masking yourself and staying out of circulation in the community."