More COVID-19 cases expected in Lauderdale County as count increases to 12

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a news conference in Jackson on March 24.

A man from Florida called us a few weeks ago because he couldn’t get information about what was happening inside a nursing home where his father lives.

Another caller told us about the sadness of visiting a relative through a window of another long-term care facility.

One hundred thirty-five residents of long-term care facilities in Lauderdale County had tested positive for COVID-19, 27 of those people had died from the virus, according to a state report issued Friday.

Those are the highest totals for any county in Mississippi, which reported 1,416 confirmed cases and 231 deaths in long-term care facilities as of Friday.

The Mississippi State Department of Health continues to refuse to identify those facilities or provide specific numbers associated with each of those facilities. For individuals such as those who called us and for a number of other reasons, the department needs to change its policy.

In an April 3 editorial, we called for the department of health to provide that information in the name of safety and openness. Given the latest totals, we believe it’s even more imperative now for the state to become forthcoming and transparent.

Family members of facility residents and those who have any contact with people who work or visit those facilities deserve to know the risks for their family members and themselves.

We are sure good-minded people at most facilities are sharing information with immediate family members, but not all facilities are equal in their candor and immediate family members aren’t the only ones affected.

To its credit, the Mississippi Department of Mental Health last month provided the number of employees and clients with COVID-19 at East Mississippi State Hospital. Unfortunately, when we sought an update this week we received a reply that the department would follow the “Department of Health guidance in not identifying specific numbers at these facilities in light of privacy considerations and stigmatization of the facilities and employees. Families of individuals served have been notified in cases when someone has tested positive.”

We believe this is a step backward by the department of mental health and the “guidance” provided by the department of health is misguided.

The health of the community should be the priority, not protection of businesses, and there should be no stigmatization of any facility that’s been affected and shows an obvious need for help.

Family members have a right to know whether there’s one case of COVID-19 in mom’s facility or 36 so they can make informed choices for her care.

In Lauderdale County, 566 people had tested positive and 45 people had died from the virus, according to Friday’s report. Almost 11,000 people had contracted the virus in Mississippi and almost 500 people had died. As numbers grow daily, the risks are real.

The public deserves honest, complete information from its public officials. Most other states have recognized the importance in identifying names of facilities and specific numbers.

Since our April editorial, the chorus is growing for the department of health to change its policy.

The PineBelt News filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the department of health seeking the department to release the names of Forrest County long-term care facilities where patients have died from COVID-19 complications. The newspaper reported it filed the suit in Hinds County after numerous attempts through public records requests failed.

And on Thursday, the Clarion Ledger reported it filed a public records complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission over the health department's failure to produce its list of nursing homes with coronavirus outbreaks.

On Friday, the Mississippi Press Association called for the health department to release the information sought in the lawsuit.

"In the best of times, Mississippi citizens are entitled to adequate disclosure of information from the State Department of Health and other agencies that is in the interest of public welfare," MPA President Kevin Cooper, senior vice president of Boone Newspapers, Inc., wrote. "And certainly in these times of a great public health crisis, MSDH should do more to release information the public deserves to know about where and how this disease has spread.”

We call again for the department of health to identify the long-term-care facilities reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths and the numbers at each facility.

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