An unfortunate number one ranking for Mississippi

Congratulations, fellow Mississippians: we’re finally number one at something.

Unfortunately, it’s not a category we should aspire to lead. We’re on track to become the number one state for new coronavirus cases per capita, according to NPR, and we’ll soon displace Florida from its top perch in this ranking. By the time this column publishes, we may already have done so.

We’re in a truly scary predicament, and I’m afraid we’re not taking it seriously enough.

Our hospital system is stressed to the max, and our intensive care units are full, according to Dr. LouAnn Woodward, who is vice chancellor and dean of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. She told NPR that her hospital is having to transport seriously ill patients to other states for treatment.

The dean also noted that hospital critical care workers are fighting exhaustion from their heavy workload. I can’t imagine, and I salute all of our health care heroes for their tireless work during this time. We’re in your debt, for sure.

I’ve heard of our hospital situation for weeks, but it never really registered with me until it hit me personally last week. A loved one was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was later rushed to the emergency room in a rural Mississippi town. It was discovered that, in addition to the coronavirus, my loved one had pneumonia and required hospitalization.

The hospital, however, was overwhelmed in terms of resources and could not make an additional ICU bed available. My loved one – an older person with a pre-existing condition – was sent home due to a lack of space, equipment and personnel. Thankfully, this family member is recovering well, and we have high hopes of a complete recovery.

The virus has hit home for me in a number of other ways. I exhibited many of the symptoms in mid-April, and I was tested at the Cough & Fever Clinic in Hattiesburg. I had my results – negative, praise God – within three days, but another family member had symptoms in mid-June and had to wait 14 days for a negative result. I’m sure our testing labs are stressed to a breaking point, too.

I’ve had two close friends test positive, and their symptoms varied pretty wildly. One of them had no symptoms and was only tested as a work precaution, and the other one was seriously ill for days. This friend – who is 32 and in great physical shape – was diagnosed in mid-May and is still dealing with fatigue and body aches months later.

Of course, I’ve heard of many friends losing loved ones to the virus, and I’ve reported on its devastating effects at local long-term care facilities. It’s been a difficult few months for us all, and there are too many of us mourning losses that could have perhaps been prevented had we all taken this virus more seriously.

I salute our governor for finally issuing a statewide mask mandate, but I’m afraid it’s “too little, too late” at this point. I think our rise to the number one ranking is inevitable because of something Woodward noted in her NPR talk. She said that Mississippians place “a lot of value” on their “ability to make decisions about their own life.”

“The citizens in Mississippi very much value that freedom to make their own decisions and not be told what to do based on hotspots and based on numbers identified throughout the state,” she added.

I’m all for liberty, and I understand there must be a balance – a delicate one – between reopening our economy and our schools while still keeping safe from a deadly and highly contagious virus. However, I think far too many of our state’s fine citizens have been caught up in political talking points, and it’s unfortunate this situation has been politicized.

It’s time for us to turn off the talking points and dial down the dialogue. We can value our freedoms while also respecting the lives of others. Now is the time to listen to the experts and follow their directives of wearing masks, socially distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

If we follow these steps, we can minimize the impact of the virus in our state and reduce the strain on our hospital system. We can be number one in turning things around for the better.

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