The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors released a statement Saturday as the county prepares for what it views as the inevitable arrival of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the county.
While rumors persist, and issues of patients crossing county lines to get treatment across the state, Oktibbeha County had not reported a confirmed case of the virus as of press time Saturday.
However, the Mississippi State Department of Health releases morning reports and breakdowns of confirmations made the day before, which can lead to some misunderstanding the current state of the pandemic in Mississippi.
The county press release, crafted by Board Attorney Rob Roberson, addresses concerns and provides tips for promoting public health awareness, but also said the Board of Supervisors will consider passing a resolution as soon as practical, giving authority to Sheriff Steve Gladney to restrict more than 10 people from congregating for the health safety and welfare of the community.
“The sheriff will be instructed to follow the CDC guidelines and to discourage assemblies of 10 or more,” the release said. “Working together we can limit the damage from COVID-19 virus in our community.”
The city of Starkville passed a similar measure during a special call meeting Friday evening, which saw Aldermen unanimously opt to institute a 30-day resolution limiting public gatherings at most businesses, organizations and places of worship to 10 people or less, in addition to restrict restaurants to curbside, delivery or carry out service only. The city also passed an ordinance to enforce the resolution, making violations of the resolution a criminal offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or $1,000 in fines, plus court costs.
While Oktibbeha County has yet to see its first confirmed case of the virus, several surrounding counties have already confirmed numerous cases. Lowndes County reported its first four cases on Saturday, as Clay County also saw its first case confirmed.
This decision prompted supervisors to inform the public of its preparations, assuring the public that Oktibbeha County EMA Director Kristen Campanella and her staff are staying updated on the situation as it develops.
“Please keep in mind that many of the reports of infections around the state are being reported in the county from which the patient is being served or was tested,” the release said. “The reality is that most of our state has been infected.”
Campanella told the Starkville Daily News on Saturday that the county has been closely monitoring the ever-changing situation and are in contact with state officials and keeping them informed of needs on a local level.
“[Saturday] we received our first shipment of supplies with more to come over the next few days,” she said. “We are doing everything we can to keep everyone informed and our first responders and health care staff protected.”
As some on social media interpret data and Oktibbeha County’s lack of a confirmed case as a signal of safety, Campanella encouraged residents not to wait until there is a positive case locally to practice social distancing as suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 60 new cases on Saturday, the biggest single day spike since the first case was confirmed in the state, bringing the state total to 140.
Supervisors ask the public not to panic when Oktibbeha County is added to the list, but acknowledged the severity of the situation.
“People that are infected around the state could come from any county so please do not get a false sense of security assuming that this virus has not come to our county,” the release said.