By LEAH WILLINGHAM
Associated Press/ Report for America
JACKSON, MISS. (AP) _ More than 500 people in one of the poorest counties in Mississippi were tested for the coronavirus by the state Department of Health over the past week as part of a new experimental initiative to slow the spread of the virus by community transmission.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said medical professionals went in with the goal to test every resident in Lexington, the Holmes County seat, where 2,000 people live. By identifying those who are asymptomatic, Dobbs said, officials hoped to limit cases of the virus being passed unknowingly from person to person.
“We didn’t quite get every resident, but if we got 500, I was going to consider it a success, and we surpassed that,“ he said Monday.
A total of 561 people were tested in Lexington, 14 of whom weren’t previously aware they had been infected with the coronavirus. The majority of those 14 people were asymptomatic.
Holmes County has been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s one of the smallest counties in the state, and it’s seen 900 cases of coronavirus, according to the Department of Health. That’s around 5% of the population.
The Mississippi Department of Health partnered with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Guard and the University of Mississippi Medical Center to provide the tests.
In addition, the state Department of Health released new data on schools Monday: In Mississippi schools, there have been 19 cases among students and 15 among employees across 22 school districts.
The Health Department said Monday that Mississippi, with about 3 million population, has had at least 67,649 reported cases and at least 1,912 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday evening. That’s an increase of 476 confirmed cases and 16 deaths from numbers reported the day before, with nine of those deaths occurring between July 13 and Aug. 2 and identified later using death certificates.
The true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.
Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.