Since June 25 the number of cases of COVID-19 in Sunflower County has jumped from just over 200 to more than 500 cases.
That information, along with the possibility of overloading the county's medical facilities, prompted the governor and now Sunflower County officials to take actions evoking tighter restrictions with regard to the wearing of face coverings in public and during public gatherings, a practice that is highly believed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton said she doesn't have a problem with the stricter guidelines. "I don't have a problem at all, seeing the death rate is rising," she said.
Local officials, such as Burton, have expressed some trepidation that the virus will continue to spread rapidly because residents, especially the younger generation, are not taking the threat seriously. Local leaders fear a lackadaisical attitude may be what is causing the sudden spike.
And as a result, municipal and county leaders have employed various means including social media to reach out to the citizens to encourage them to follow the medical advice of the Centers for Disease Control and state health officials.
Burton is one of the persons who has been very vocal about getting people to adhere to the medical guidelines. "It may be a small inconvenience to put on a mask, but to save a life, how inconvenient is it?" said Burton.
Since the onset of this pandemic, Burton has recorded 12 COVID-related deaths for the county. Nine of those deaths happened inside of the county boundaries and three occurred at health care facilities in other counties. According to her, the ages of the deceased range from 45 years old to 89 years old.
In addition to the COVID-19 deaths, Burton said she is seeing a trend, an upswing in the number of respiratory related deaths. The deceased in those cases are persons who have either not been tested or tested negative for COVID-19. So far in 2020 there have been 25 deaths caused by pneumonia.
"That is substantially high considering it's a non-pneumonia season, so that's another thing to take in account with the COVID," she said.
Although the county's virus-associated death totals may seem small in relation to some of the neighboring communities, Burton said the death toll so far since January is up by 33 over the first six and a half months of last year. Looking at the period from January 1 to July 13, the coroner's office has recorded 175 deaths for 2020 compared to 142 deaths in 2019 for the same period.
For the entire year of 2019, Burton said she responded to 263 call-outs and the yearly average tends to be fairly constant. Just taking into account the past years' numbers, with 175 deaths already, the county's deaths could be over 300 by the end of the year. "And that's scary, our community is small," she said. According to her, the winter months typically bring more deaths.
Burton implores the county residents to think of others when it comes to adhering to guidelines for healthy interactions. "Have compassion for your fellow man, it's not how it's affecting you per se, because you're going to have asymptomatic people, but that asymptomatic person that is positive can go home to their child that is immunosuppressed or the parent that is immunosuppressed and it could cause them to die just because you were so selfish you wouldn't wear a mask to go in Walmart because it inconvenienced you a little bit."
In addition to the deaths that have been attributed to Sunflower County, Burton confirmed that deaths of persons from other counties have also happened within Sunflower County boundaries. However, those are not represented in her figures.
The numbers that make up the 175 deceased for 2020 include the aforementioned COVID casualties, eight deaths by homicide, four suicides, 14 accidental deaths and 14 deaths that are pending a determination by the state.
The remainder expired from natural causes. Burton said all of her figures including the COVID deaths are comprised of Parchman inmates and persons from the free world.
Burton noted that her call-out total for 2018 is only 117 because prior to 2019, local physicians were completing the death certificates for their patients who died in local facilities. “But now, everything comes through me,” she said.