JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Assuming Mississippians practice complete social distancing requirements throughout May, a Washington-based research institute projects the state will see nearly nine hundred more deaths from COVID-19 over the next four months, a figure that could be higher because of two factors the organization didn’t include in its analysis of the state.
Those factors include Mississippi’s COVID-19 hospitalization rate and the prevalence of nursing home outbreaks that have tripled in less than a day.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s website provides projected estimates for all fifty states, based on population density, transit patterns and social distancing measures.
White House officials also used the IHME forecast to examine how the pandemic could affect the country as a whole.
The model, updated daily by members of the institute, showed a decrease of more than 100 deaths in the estimate following Gov. Tate Reeves’ shelter-in-place order for the state this week, which takes effect Friday evening.
The forecast from IHME shows a sobering reality for Mississippians: steadily increasing deaths from the coronavirus, up to a peak of 34 per day by April 20.
While that number is merely an estimate, it’s still concerning to many doctors and physicians.
Dr. Clay Hays, who serves as president of the state’s medical association, said he believes the IHME forecast model played a role in convincing Reeves to enact more stringent measures across Mississippi.
“I definitely think that’s the case. We needed to send a strong and clear message to the public that they needed to take this seriously," Hays said. "Social distancing, it sounds like of funny or blase. This is a real deal. When somebody gets this virus, it is very contagious and can hurt people in a big way and come on people very quickly, so we needed to do something different.”
IHME’s forecast model does not, however, include those hospitalized for COVID-19 in Mississippi, nor the rate of hospitalization, according to the organization’s methodology.
Those factors would likely lead to a higher death estimate, since Mississippi’s hospitalization rate stands as second-highest in the nation, according to a 3 On Your Side analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project.
That hospitalization rate, Hays said, likely can be attributed to higher numbers of underlying conditions for a significant portion of the state’s population, including diabetes and stroke.
Another factor not included in the study: a disproportionate number of cases among older Mississippians because of outbreaks in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes.
Right now, the Mississippi State Department of Health said it is investigating outbreaks -- which can be as small as one positive case -- in twenty different counties around the state.
One day earlier, state health officials reported they were handling outbreaks in just seven counties.
“Older folks, they have a much harder time, and their immune response is just challenged, and that’s why they have a really hard time getting over the virus when they get it," Hays said.
Data released by MSDH show the challenge older patients face.
Of the 26 deaths from COVID-19 thus far, 85 percent were people over the age of 60.
But Hays said those statistics don’t always influence a person’s behavior.
“These are numbers. People don’t think much about numbers, but you know what’s behind those numbers are people and families. You’re going to know somebody that’s been infected with COVID-19," Hays said.
Still, Hays remains optimistic about the outcome here.
He believes that Mississippi’s late start for infections, when compared with other states, will ultimately help us.
“We fortunately are a little ahead of the game, to be honest with you. I mean, the folks that were in New York or Washington State, they really didn’t have a chance. They didn’t know when it was gonna hit. We have that idea. We have that benefit. Now we’re gonna have more cases. That’s because we’re doing more testing. We’re learning more and more about it each day," Hays said. "We’re doing different things today than we were yesterday.”