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The process for getting COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Mississippi long-term care facilities has begun, according to State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. 

It is unclear when those shipments will arrive, but Dobbs said on Monday that Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH) partners at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) had confirmed that the state will receive enough doses to begin the process of vaccinating LTCF residents. State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers added that it would cover everyone in LTCFs across the state.

Dobbs said that LTCFs would likely see improvement in the number of cases in five to eight weeks because of the vaccine distribution.

“Once we get those doses for distribution among the long-term-care facilities, there should be adequate vaccine to go around for every single resident, staff member and health care worker,” Byers said during a press conference on Monday.

There are 19,850 residents in Mississippi LTCFs, according to MSDH data, which means that 39,700 total doses would be needed to fully vaccinate that population. The state received its first shipment of 25,000 doses earlier this week, but these doses are currently being distributed to health care workers.

Many LTCFs have partnered with pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens as part of the federal roll-out program for the vaccine. Local employees of these pharmacies will administer the vaccine on-site at these LTCFs as they receive an adequate number of doses. Because the vaccine requires two doses administered approximately 21 to 28 days apart, each LTCF will have two clinic dates set.

As of Dec. 16, there are six active outbreaks in DeSoto County long-term care facilities, with 103 total cases among them. MSDH defines an outbreak at a long-term care facility as one or more cases among residents or two or more cases among staff within 14 days. 

Statewide, LTCFs account for only 4.6% of COVID-19 cases, but 36.95% of COVID-19 deaths. As of Dec. 16, there are a total of 239 outbreaks at LTCFs. 8,549 Mississippians in LTCFs have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,587 have died.

In DeSoto County, 20 of the 116 COVID-19 deaths have occurred in LTCFs, or 17.24% of the county’s total. 

The death rate in LTCs has steadily declined since spring because the facilities are better prepared to handle positive cases, according to Dobbs. Still, Dobbs said that there is a variation in how compliant LTCFs are with public health guidelines. 

“Will I say that there’s some variability in quality of the infection control practices? Yes, absolutely,” Dobbs said. “And we’ve seen in some places that are super diligent, take it super seriously, appropriate use of PPE, they’ll do better.”

Of the six DeSoto County long-term care facilities that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks, the two with the highest levels of spread among residents and staff were both cited for health inspection violations early this year. Diversicare of Southaven and DeSoto Healthcare Center both received one-star ratings from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for their 2020 health inspections. 

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