Mayor Toby Barker’s 40-member community working group that is tasked with helping re-open Hattiesburg in the face of COVID-19 had its first official conversation Thursday, with health care providers, the small business sector, faith leaders, tourism/hospitality, government officials and the governor’s task force weighing in with their knowledge and ideas on slowly returning the city back to a state of normalcy.
Ideas discussed included a timeline for a vaccine against the virus, the restarting of elective medical procedures, reopening businesses slowly and safely, bridging the gap that has opened in the religious community by the cancellation of on-site church services, and bringing back revenue lost from hotels and restaurants.
“For a first meeting, it was very collaborative, a lot of great information was shared, and we look forward to talking to you further about those things that are going on,” Barker said Thursday via Facebook Live. “Going forward, we want to make sure that we’re staying in touch with you, that we’re keeping the lines of communication open, as people start having ideas on things we might implement as we try to chart a path forward.”
Barker also commended all the individuals and organizations – including but not limited to Flathau’s Fine Foods, Compadres, Smoothie King and Kent Oliver – that have pitched in to help feed first-line workers, such as the police department, fire department, sanitation workers and the mayor’s office.
“I know times are not easy for you, but the fact that you think of your first responders and your public servants, and the people that have been on the front lines and are truly essential, means a lot to us,” Barker said.
Barker announced the 40-member group on April 22, saying a team approach with industry professionals would help bring forth the proper measures on the matter of recovering from the virus.
The mayor also took a few minutes during the address to give an update on COVID-19 numbers in the Hattiesburg metropolitan area, which officials believe to be improving because of the shelter in place protocols.
As of April 23, Forrest General Hospital, Merit Health Wesley, Hattiesburg Clinic and Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative – which, together, serve almost 20 counties – had performed a total of 4,342 tests for coronavirus. Of those, 491 were positive, 3,616 were negative and 235 were pending/awaiting results.
Those numbers continue a positive trend for Hattiesburg, as pending tests have fallen to between 200 and 250, as opposed to a high of 908 in early April.
“This means we’re getting very efficient results back; it means that we’re not burning through a lot of personal protective equipment in the inpatient setting,” Barker said. “We’re finding out if people have COVID or they don’t, and then we can give them the appropriate treatment without putting our healthcare staff at risk.”
As of the same date, Forrest General Hospital and Merit Health Wesley had 37 hospitalized patients who were confirmed positive for COVID-19, which was a decrease of one since the day before. Over the last 14 days, the average number of COVID-positive patients at the two hospitals was 30.43.
“So while this is an increase over the average of the last 14 days, we’re actually down from a couple of days ago, which is good,” Barker said. “We have no patients right now who are under investigation.”
The ICUs at the two hospitals had a total of 10 COVID-positive patients, which is down from the 12.93 average over the last 14 days. There are no patients under investigation in ICU.
Forrest County had a total of 164 cases as of April 23 – along with 79 in Lamar County, bringing to 243 the total number of cases in the Hattiesburg metropolitan area.
“What’s positive is, a week ago we were getting days where we had 20 new cases, but now we’re getting between four and five in each county going forward,” Barker said. “So that’s a positive development, that we’re staying under those double digits for our metro area, and we hope that trend continues.”