27 of 44 deaths in county at long-term care facilities

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Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Jones County continued multiplying over the past two weeks with a roughly 22 percent jump. Data obtained from the Mississippi State Department of Health through a Freedom of Information request suggests many cases are related to outbreaks at long-term care facilities.

As of June 6, Jones County had 709 reported coronavirus cases with 33 deaths. As of Wednesday, the county had 910 cases with 44 deaths. Almost 150 of reported cases are from LTCs such as Care Center of Laurel (46 cases, 13 deaths) and Ellisville State School (16 cases, one death). The former has the highest number of cases. Phone calls to Care Center were not returned.

Names of the LTC facilities with outbreaks were released earlier this month by the MSDH after a court ruling in Hinds County and a recommendation from the state Attorney General.

That ruling came after a long debate about whether such information should be protected, even though case numbers are not personally identifying information. The Hinds County Chancery Court disclosed the facility names on the grounds of public safety. Case numbers were not immediately released.

A little more than a week ago, the MSDH announced all residents and staff in the state's 211 nursing homes have been tested for COVID-19. That's a total of 13,911 residents and 17,324 staff.

"We have been tracking outbreaks in nursing homes since we saw our first COVID case in Mississippi on March 11," said State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs. Dobbs is formerly a staffer at South Central Regional Medical Center in Laurel. "That has been a very vulnerable population that has shown to be more susceptible to severe illness and death from COVID."

While it's been previously discussed by health officials that the number of poultry plants in South Mississippi could have played a role in Jones County's recent designation as a COVID hot spot, there hasn't been much verifiable evidence of outbreaks in those facilities.

The Leader-Call received LTC facility case numbers from the MSDH about three days after making a formal information request.

"We never identify schools, facilities, businesses etc. unless there is a public health reason to do so," MSDH spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said after information on Ellisville State School was requested. "This occurs when we can't identify people potentially exposed, which is not the case with this school."

Ellisville State School is considered an LTC facility as it houses residents who have disabilities.

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