Rural living, chronic illness and COVID-19

PRAIRIE, Miss. (AP) — COVID-19 hit Prairie native Shirley Judd suddenly and hard. One day in late August, she felt fine; the next, she could barely move.

As soon as the symptoms struck, Judd called her aunt to take her to West Point to see a doctor, where she tested positive for COVID-19.

“When I got home, I had to go straight to bed. I couldn’t even sit up or do anything. I had headaches starting off, and I was just shaking, throwing up,” Judd said. “After about four days, or five, that’s when my throat got so sore I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t eat anything.”

She visited another doctor in Houston on Labor Day and received shots and antibiotics. By Wednesday, her condition worsened. She was losing weight, and her mouth was swollen. At approximately 8 a.m., she checked into the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo for treatment.

What made Judd’s experience more harrowing was that she has multiple sclerosis, a chronic illness that affects the central nervous system. Judd is 53 and has been on disability for the condition since 1987. She has had two hip replacements because of MS, and changes treatments every two years. She receives infusion treatments every six months and thought her initial illness resulted from MS flaring rather than a COVID-19 diagnosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have long said people with underlying medical conditions and older adults are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. While the National Multiple Sclerosis Society website states that current evidence suggests MS doesn’t increase the risk of dying from the COVID-19, possible long-term consequences of MS, age and higher levels of disability can increase the risk of being hospitalized for COVID-19.

Judd’s primary concern was maintaining her household while recovering, and she’s grateful family members stepped in to help. Family friend Lee Thomas did most of her cooking and cleaning, and cousins Yolanda Ewing and Chris Ewing helped bring supplies and food to her.

“Everything and everybody was really good about helping me out until I got straightened out and could get around,” Judd said. “That was a blessing.”

Judd also received financial support from Okolona-based nonprofit Excel Inc. by applying for the COVID-19 Support Fund, which is available to people affected by COVID-19. The organization paid her water and light bills while she was recovering.

“With Excel, I appreciate what they did because at the time, I couldn’t do anything,” Judd said. “It was a blessing and a miracle.”

Judd is also Black and lives in a rural community, both factors the CDC claims might require extra precautions against COVID-19. As of Oct. 11, Black Chickasaw residents of Non-Hispanic and unknown ethnicity were 49% of Chickasaw’s 777 cases since March 11, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Black people are approximately 45% of Chickasaw’s population. Statewide, Black people account for 48% of COVID-18 cases as of Oct. 4, despite only representing 38% of the

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