By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell and Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons are making a joint plea to Bolivar County residents to abide by the stay-at-home order.
As of Wednesday, Mississippi stood at 2,003 cases. Bolivar County has 54 of those cases, with two deaths and two outbreaks identified in long-term care facilities.
The stay-at-home order was signed by Gov. Tate Reeves last week after health professionals showed him data that suggested going without an order would mean an explosion of cases, overwhelming the state’s healthcare system and resulting in numerous deaths.
Simmons, who served in the Mississippi Senate for 27 years, warned that the novel coronavirus is an indiscriminate killer.
“This virus is just like a dog with fleas and a dog with fleas, everywhere it stops it leaves fleas,” Simmons said. “The only big difference is that the fleas have a tendency to make you itch and this virus is a killer. We are exposing our loved ones, family and friends as we ignore these orders and move around, and it is going to be detrimental to the community.”
The virus is estimated to be twice as contagious as the seasonal flu. Its incubation period, the time it takes for symptoms to develop, can take five to 14 days, meaning those who don’t know they have it can spread it.
“What also is going to happen is that with limited resources in the medical community, we only have so many beds that’s going to be available at any given time,” Simmons said. “As our parents and grandparents, friends and loved ones get ill and fill up those beds, folks falling behind them are not going to have a place to go and that”s just going to add to the problem so in order to avoid the problem, we need to take heed to the orders and not go anyplace.
“Just bunker down at home, learn to love our loved ones and families at home, put up with us for a few days or weeks until we can get through this so that we donÕt overwhelm the medical community and continue to kill our friends and loved ones.”
Nowell has become increasingly concerned at the confirmed case increase in the county, which stood at just 16 last week.
The Cleveland Board of Aldermen approved a number of measures designed to keep stores orderly and clean.
Nowell is advising residents to limit their exposure to the only mass gatherings left, grocery stores. He suggests going once a week to get a week’s worth of supplies.
“If you see a store is busy, your life is way more important than going and getting your supplies,” Nowell said. “Come back at a less busy time. If we donÕt do social distancing, we’re going to have a lot of deaths on our hands here and that’s something we have to take into consideration and not put our friends and families and anybody else in this position.”
Nowell also recommends parents not taking their children into stores, a suggestion seconded by Simmons.
“I know it’s a challenge to have a young kid with all of the energy, but let’s look at little games we can play together as a family and keep them as the mayor indicated in the backyard and don’t carry them into those places,” said Simmons.
Simmons warned that the implications of the virus are more serious than people realize.
“We don’t need to become an assassin of our own people and by assassin, I mean picking up that virus and carrying it to them,” Simmons said. “It will be a chain for me to go out and carry the virus out to my mother, grandmother. She’s put in the hospital, if thereÕs a bed available for her, and I can’t even go see her, and she passes away and the funeral home has to bury her, and we canÕt even go to the funeral. That’s the kind of predicament we are in.”
Both Nowell and Simmons have asked citizens to continue to monitor information sources for updates, continue using good hygiene practices and to simply stay at home to help the crisis accelerate to its end point.
Dr. Paul Byers said about 50% and “maybe a little bit more” of those testing positive for the highly contagious virus and more than 50% of those dying from it in the state are black.
“This is troubling, obviously,” Byers said during a news conference.
African Americans make up about 38% of Mississippi’s population of nearly 3 million people.
Mississippi has high rates of heart disease, diabetes and asthma. The state also has a high poverty rate and a large percentage of uninsured residents who might be less likely to seek preventative medical care for chronic conditions.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday that he wants African American community leaders, including pastors and politicians, to talk to people about trying to protect themselves and seek medical help if they think they might have the virus.
“Let’s communicate and talk about the dangers that exist out there, and there are dangers to anyone that has chronic medical conditions,” Reeves said.
The governor posted a short Health Department video to his Facebook page Tuesday showing actor Morgan Freeman, who lives in Mississippi, telling people to wash their hands, disinfect surfaces and keep distance from others to slow the spread of the virus.
“We will emerge from this pandemic stronger as a state and as a people, I’m sure,” Freeman says. “Stay home and stay healthy, Mississippi.”
Mississippi’s overall coronavirus caseload grew to at least 1,915 infections as of Monday evening, with 59 deaths, the Health Department said Tuesday. That is an increase of 177 cases and eight deaths from the previous day.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Mississippi Health Department website, as of Tuesday, still did not show information about the race of people affected by the coronavirus.
Racial disparities are showing up in other places. Alabama officials said Tuesday that more than 40% of COVID-19 deaths in that state have been in African Americans; about 27% of Alabama’s population is black.
Most of the people who have died of COVID-19 in Mississippi are 60 or older, and the outbreak has spread to at least 38 long-term care facilities, the state said Tuesday.
The most-populated areas are seeing the largest caseloads. These include three counties in the metro Jackson area Ñ Hinds, Rankin and Madison; DeSoto County in the northwestern corner of the state bordering Tennessee; coastal Harrison and Jackson counties; and south Mississippi’s Pearl River County, which borders hard-hit Louisiana and is a place where people commute to work and shop between the two states.
But some areas with smaller populations are seeing growing caseloads.
Bolivar County is in the Delta, with about 30,600 people, 64% African American, according to the Census. It had 54 confirmed coronavirus cases and two deaths by Monday evening.
Wilkinson County is in the southwestern corner of the state, bordering Louisiana. Its population of about 8,600 is 71% African American. It has 32 confirmed cases and three deaths.
The Health Department said Tuesday that 20,370 coronavirus tests had been done in the state, by public and private labs, as of Sunday. Cases were reported in 80 of 82 counties.
Reeves issued a statewide stay-at-home order that took effect Friday evening and remains in place until the morning of April 20. It bans gatherings of 10 or more people.
Reeves has said people should limit their outings to essential errands like grocery shopping. He said law enforcement officers will break up big groups of people who are out socializing. Grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses deemed essential will remain open.
By Kevin Edwards