With COVID-19 infections rising across the United States, Hattiesburg’s two universities are making preparations for a possible outbreak.
University of Southern Mississippi officials have halted all university-sponsored domestic and international travel “regardless of the mode of transportation.”
Exceptions – such as for student-athlete travel or necessary research – can be issued by a dean, vice president or provost, but the possibility of a 14-day self-isolation requirement exists even for domestic travel.
Southern Miss officials are strongly recommending against any personal international travel and will keep residence halls open over spring break for on-campus students. Students, faculty and staff are being requested to report any travel – domestic or international – to the university.
According to usm.edu/news, “the University’s Emergency Management Team and Moffitt Health Center remain in contact with state public health officials to ensure we are following the latest information, trends and guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, we are following alerts and recommendations from the U.S. Department of State.”
Students and faculty members who recently returned from travel to South Korea and Europe have been screened for COVID-19 and currently have a “very low risk” for infection status.
“Nevertheless, they are being assessed regularly to ensure campus and community safety. Nearly all the travelers are near or beyond the incubation period for COVID-19,” according to the website.
William Carey University officials said they had no public comment regarding their preparations for COVID-19 at this time, but an email sent to alumni said the university had “canceled exchange programs with China and other countries impacted by the virus.”
The email added that the university “has plans in place to deal with any possible local infection, such as a room to isolate any student who may test positive.”
Additionally, according to the email, all university trips to countries under CDC Level 2 or CDC Level 3 travel health notices have been canceled, and other planned travel will be carefully monitored.
In the event of suspected infections, parents will be notified, said the email.
According to a Facebook post from the university’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, a match day ceremony for the medical school, set for March 20, has been canceled “…in an effort to ensure the safety of our faculty, staff, students.”
The public is invited to attend a 3 p.m. Thursday information update at the medical school in Hattiesburg. State Department of Health officials, along with faculty members, will present the update.
CORONAVIRUS FAQ FROM FORREST GENERAL HOSPITAL
With the uncertainty surrounding the spread of COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, Pine Belt residents are understandably concerned about the virus and its potential affect on residents here in the Pine Belt
However, Dr. Thompson Liddell, an infectious disease physician at Forrest General Hospital, said here in Mississippi, the flu is of higher concern
“We already know we have the flu in the state,” said Dr. Liddell. “At this time, there are no reported cases of coronavirus in Mississippi.”
Liddell and Melissa Mazer, MLS, CIC, infection preventionist at the hospital, addressed a few frequently asked questions below.
What is Forrest General doing to prepare in the event a patient appears to have COVID-19?
“At Forrest General, we’ve spent the last few months in meetings reviewing our infectious disease protocols and ensuring they are updated as the CDC’s recommendations continue to evolve and change for COVID-19,” Liddell said, noting that hospital personnel have been in meetings in conjunction with the local health departments as well as the State Department of Health. “I think we are very prepared at this point.”
Who is most at risk for becoming infected?
“Those who are most at risk for the coronavirus are the elderly and people who already have underlying health problems or conditions,” Liddell said. Mazer added you should look at this as a respiratory illness, like the flu, and think about what you would do to try to avoid the flu. As with the flu, Liddell said a number of people who have the coronavirus recover and do well afterward. “It’s still early to look at numbers,” he said.
What should I do if I have some of the common symptoms of COVID-19?
“If anybody has a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, the sort of symptoms we see with the flu and other viruses, including coronavirus, they should visit their health care provider and be evaluated to make sure they don’t have other illnesses,” Liddell said. He urged anyone who might be exhibiting symptoms and planning a visit to their physician’s office, an immediate care facility or the emergency room to call ahead and alert the medical facility of their plans. This allows hospital personnel to meet the patient at the door and provide them a way to be brought into the hospital that is safest for them and for others.
Testing is being conducted through the health department and is not yet available in hospitals and clinics.
How do you treat someone with COVID-19?
While there is no treatment for the coronavirus, patients are provided with supportive care to ease and improve viral symptoms, according to Liddell. “If someone is sick enough to require hospitalization, it would mean they are in need of something like supplemental oxygen to help breathing, or they may require IV fluids,” he said.
What are some tips to decrease my chances of getting COVID-19?
Liddell and Mazer offered the following tips for preventing any infectious disease, including COVID-19:
• Regular hand hygiene. Washing your hands consistently. Carrying hand sanitizer with you is a good idea. Make sure the sanitizer has at least a 60 percent alcohol content.
• Don’t cough or sneeze into your hand, but use a tissue instead, then dispose of the tissue. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your elbow, and then immediately perform hand hygiene.
• Avoid touching your face.
Liddell and Mazer noted that just doing these little things can make a big difference in decreasing the spread of viruses.
How can I protect my children who are not old enough to understand viral infections?
Mazer said it is important to stress to your children on a daily basis to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer and cover their mouth when they cough. Other recommendations are to get your children to change clothes when they get home from school or take an early bath, but that would be the same recommendations for dealing with any illness.
What should I do if I have been traveling and am worried I may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19?
Liddell said if people feel they have had some travel contact or contact with someone who is suspected of having coronavirus, they should contact their local health department so they can have their questions answered.
Should I be wearing a mask? Will that protect me from the virus?
As far as wearing a mask, Liddell said physicians do not recommend walking around with a mask on right now, particularly in Mississippi, when there is no coronavirus.
“We’ll put a mask on somebody to prevent them for spreading viruses,” Liddell said.
I have plans to travel, do I need to cancel them?
Liddell recommends heeding the travel advisories posted on the CDC website.
Is it safe to be in airports and on airplanes?
When traveling through airports, Liddell recommends taking the normal precautions such as mentioned here. Travelers may want to carry anti-bacterial wipes to disinfect tray tables, armrests and headrests. Make sure any such carry-ons are TSA compliant. Mazer echoed Liddell’s travel suggestions noting that practicing good hygiene is one of the most important precautions.
Visit forresthealth.org or cdc.gov for more information.