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Mississippi virus indicators go ‘unwanted direction’

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s state health officer said Monday that he’s troubled by the state’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases, including a significant increase during the past week of people hospitalized because of the highly contagious coronavirus.

Dr. Thomas Dobbs said six hospitals have no beds available in their intensive care units, and clinics are seeing an increasing number of patients with COVID-19 symptoms.

“All of the indicators are starting to turn in an unwanted direction,” Dobbs said during an online news conference.

Although Republican Gov. Tate Reeves ended his statewide mask mandate Sept. 30, Dobbs said it’s important for people to voluntarily do simple things to slow the spread of the virus — wearing masks, keeping social distance of at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) and avoiding large gatherings.

Dobbs said Mississippi’s case numbers were “starting to creep up” before health officials expected any impact from the lifting of the mask mandate. He said the lack of a mandate could add to the problem of increasing cases.

“I will say, personally, I’ve been a little bit disappointed just hearing from churches and businesses that they feel like they are no longer empowered to have their members or visitors wear masks,” Dobbs said.

Cities and counties are allowed to set their own mandates for people to wear masks in public places.

The state health department will start offering rapid coronavirus testing in some counties this week. Dobbs said it should be available next week in the department’s other testing sites. Until now, tests done by the department have had results available in days rather than hours.

Dobbs also said that ahead of the Nov. 3 election, the department will hand out free paper masks that include a plastic guard to cover part of the face. Those will be available at testing sites to people who are at least 65 or who have health conditions that could make them more vulnerable to the virus, including diabetes, hypertension and lung disease.

The state health department said Monday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 105,000 cases and at least 3,101 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday evening, with an increase of 296 confirmed cases and no deaths from numbers reported the day before.


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unwanted pregnancies in virus-hit S.Africa

South African student Jessica* had already missed two periods when she shyly slipped into a clinic to seek an abortion in early July, as the coronavirus outbreak was reaching its peak.

Nurses scurrying to accomodate a long line of patients with varying ailments told the 19-year-old that the clinic was “fully booked” and advised her to try at a hospital.

Two months later, with the help of a local rights group lobbying hospitals to assist, Jessica was finally booked in for a procedure that required surgery — rather than pills — due to the delay.

And it was almost too late. Another dozen days would have taken Jessica past 20 weeks, the legal limit to terminate a pregnancy in South Africa.  

“It was draining. It was the worst thing I have experienced,” she told AFP via telephone two weeks after the operation. 

The pandemic has made access to legal abortion services and contraception more difficult in South Africa, according to charities and health workers.

They believe that movement restrictions, overstretched hospitals and disrupted drug supplies led to unwanted pregnancies that many women failed to discontinue.

“Facilities were focused on fighting the pandemic,” said Whitney Chinogwenya, spokeswoman for international charity Marie Stopes in South Africa.

“So we started seeing more people coming in and saying: I went to such and such hospital and they couldn’t assist me.”

Hospitals and clinics scaled back all but essential services when a nationwide anti-coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March.

The move freed up hands and space in facilities about to confront Africa’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

But access to family planning suffered greatly as a result, particularly in already poorly-serviced rural areas.

“During Covid our whole service just came to a halt,” said a hospital doctor in the southeastern small town of Peddie.

– Fear and less privacy – 

Women seeking an abortion in Peddie were referred to far away cities.

The doctor, who did not wish to be named, suspected that most women were unable to travel such distances without raising questions — particularly during lockdown.

“It takes a lot for them to even come here and ask for an abortion,” he said, noting the stigma attached to the procedure.

“So to get here and be told that we are not providing these services must be a final nail in the coffin.”

In KwaZulu-Natal province, many women stopped visiting clinics to renew their contraceptive injections — the most widely-used form of free birth control in South Africa.

A nurse overseeing reproductive health services in the area suspected they held back “from fear of catching coronavirus” and because of limited privacy.

“Women leaving their homes were likely to be questioned,” she said, pointing to widespread misconceptions about contraception.

By the end of May, the nurse, also speaking anonymously, noticed a sudden surge in the number of women seeking to end pregnancies.

By then, the few facilities providing abortions were swamped by coronavirus and many were short on drugs.

Abortion pill suppliers said imports were