Statewide COVID-19 testing proves instrumental to 'flattening the curve'
Published on Monday, April 13, 2020
By: Ruth Cummins, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: Saturday, June 6, is the final day that the C Spire Health app will be used as a screening tool for COVID-19 testing. After that, Mississippians can be screened and scheduled for appointment-only testing by calling the UMMC Center for Telehealth at (601) 496-7200 or by going to umc.edu/covidscreening..
The University of Mississippi Medical Center’s reach is vast, but the COVID-19 pandemic finds the state’s sole academic health sciences center necessarily giving special focus to the smallest communities.
It’s come through mobile field collections that provide easy access to testing for the highly contagious virus. In coordination with the Mississippi State Department of Health, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Mississippi National Guard, C Spire and others, the Medical Center is helping the state to flatten the COVID-19 curve, with health experts warning the disease may not have yet peaked in the state.
“By partnering with UMMC and other state agencies, MSDH has greatly increased access to COVID-19 testing and enhanced our ability to halt transmission of the virus in communities statewide," said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, MSDH’s state health officer. "Continuing this outreach is critical, because we expect the number of cases will peak before we see a decline."
UMMC providers have swabbed the noses of people driving through appointment-only, one-day collection sites. Those numbers include 85 people in Olive Branch, 25 in Clarksdale, 55 in Vicksburg, 49 in Greenwood, 61 in Meridian, 110 in Natchez, 57 in Carriere, 33 in Ripley, 59 in Moss Point, 18 in Raleigh, 25 in Webster, 50 in Clinton and 25 in Tunica.
The biggest numbers tested, however, have come from drive-through collections at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, which kicked off the collaborative effort March 24 and performs testing seven days a week.
All told, as of April 11, a total 2,036 people have given specimens at the Fairgrounds off downtown Jackson and 652 at the remote locations.
Testing sites for the week of April 13 include Houson and Fayette on Tuesday; Itta Bena on Wednesday; Lexington and Woodville on Thursday.
Information about the UMMC/MSDH testing program including a listing of scheduled sites can be found here.
MEMA and the National Guard have been a constant presence at the drive-through sites in partnership with MSDH and UMMC. Invaluable to the collection site at the Fairgrounds are UMMC students and clinical and non-clinical staff members who accepted re-deployment to the testing effort after their duties shifted when clinic operations curtailed and elective surgeries were canceled.
Those who believe they need testing based on their symptoms are being screened by a UMMC Center for Telehealth provider through the C Spire Health UMMC Virtual COVID-19 Triage smartphone app. They get an appointment for testing if they’re found to be at high risk for the virus.
Dr. Jonathan Wilson, UMMC chief administrative officer, said the drive-through collections leverage the Medical Center’s expertise in emergency services and telehealth to support a pressing health care need in the state.
“We are using best practices from around the country, and we will continue as long as we have specimen collection materials and good weather,” Wilson said.
Collections have targeted some areas where testing partners were seeing a concerning spike in cases. That includes Jackson County, which as of April 13 had recorded five COVID-19 deaths and 147 cases. Only Hinds County, with 259 cases, DeSoto County, with 178 cases, and Lauderdale, with 150 cases, have wider community spread.
Making the testing more efficient is required use of the free C Spire Health app for screening, all but eliminating the “worried well” from contributing to collection site use of personal protective equipment and materials used to obtain specimens.
The fastest and easiest way to get screened and tested is with the C Spire Health app. It’s available daily from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Users are asked questions about symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath or sore throat. UMMC will contact those tested with their results.
Those without smartphones can call (601) 496-7200. Anyone not experiencing symptoms is asked not to use the app or call. Anyone determined to be at low risk for infection will receive instructions on social distancing, home isolation and self-care – and told to call back if symptoms worsen.
“C Spire is honored to be working closely with the state’s leading health care professionals to help save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississippi,” said C Spire CEO Hu Meena.
“As a leading technology company with most of our employees based here, we did not hesitate to quickly redesign our smartphone telehealth app to help doctors remotely diagnose individuals with symptoms of the virus. We also waived all fees along with the University of Mississippi Medical Center as a public service so the app can be used for all residents.”
“The use of the C Spire app and phone line for virtual COVID-19 triage and screening has been vital to our success,” Wilson said. “We are able to focus our efforts around the state where the epidemiological data are most useful in this pandemic.
“Our teams have been very successful in replicating our process we developed at the Fairgrounds with our state partners to deploy around the state.”