If Mississippi’s hospitals were adequately staffed amid the current COVID-19 resurgence, they could open over 1,000 additional beds statewide, health officials said Wednesday.
Seventy-three Mississippi hospitals have collectively asked the state for roughly 1,450 health care workers, said Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection for the Mississippi State Department of Health. Because of staff shortages in the state, he noted, 771 medical-surgical and 235 intensive care unit beds are unused.
“The pressure on the health care system is terrifying and unnecessary,” Craig said. “The governor’s office and MEMA working to contract additional health care resources to assist in those staffing projects.”
Last-ditch efforts to revive the state’s health care systems have led to bringing in federal health care workers and building two field hospitals in University of Mississippi Medical Center garages.
First field hospital:UMMC field hospital to combat COVID-19 surge
Second field hospital:Staged in UMMC garage, brought by Samaritan’s Purse
Craig said a health officer order issued Wednesday certified Mississippi’s Emergency Medical Services workers to provide care for patients in state-licensed hospitals.
“It’s going to be a real benefit, and a request we’ve seen from a lot of hospitals, to allow EMTs and medics to extend some of the services into the hospital setting,” he said.
This week, Mississippi saw the highest number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations since the virus came into the state in March 2020.
On Wednesday, Neshoba County was reporting the highest number of cases per capita in the country at 263 per 100,000 people according to a New York Times database. Health officials said it’s due in part to the Neshoba County Fair nearly three weeks ago, where thousands of people attended packed outdoor events, some political, largely without wearing face masks.
State Epidemiologist Paul Byers said Wednesday Neshoba County is an example of how infectious the delta variant is among people in large gatherings, especially in places with low vaccination rates. Neshoba County hosts a 22% fully vaccinated rate.
As of Monday, 1,623 people statewide were hospitalized with COVID-19 infections, with 447 in the intensive care unit and 316 on ventilators. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said recent hospitalizations, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, have surpassed the January highs, which peaked at 1,444.
There were six ICU beds open Wednesday morning, with 46 people on the waitlist, Craig said, and 251 patients were waiting in emergency rooms across the state for a hospital bed.
Governor, ‘where are you?’:COVID hits community, hospital hard after Neshoba County Fair
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant now accounts for more than 98.8% of COVID-19 cases in the United States. One positive delta variant can ripple to between eight to nine they are in close contact with during a gathering, Byers explained.
The variant’s high transmissibility rate has been especially prominent in the school setting, health officials said. The Mississippi State Department of Health COVID-19 school report showed 4,521 new cases among students between Aug. 9-13 in 74 of the state’s 82 reporting counties.
Over 20,000 students are in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, the report showed.
There are 29 schools that have elected to temporarily turn to virtual learning as COVID-19 infections and following quarantines have ravaged their institutions, Byers said.
Smith County School District elected to shut down its four schools for the next two weeks due to COVID-19 outbreaks that left nearly 700 students in quarantine. The decision came days after 13-year-old student, Mkayla Robinson, died of coronavirus-related complications.
‘Save our babies’:As another child dies of COVID-19, communities beg for help
Robinson marked the fifth pediatric COVID-19-related death in the state. And with the delta variant rapidly circulating throughout Mississippi, Byers said he fears it will lead to more increased pediatric hospitalizations and severe outcomes.
“Yes, most kids will get over it just fine, only about 5% of kids have long-COVID,” Dobbs said. “But if it’s your kid, it’s 100% tragedy for you and your family. We will see more, because we’re seeing continuing increasing numbers. We don’t have any anticipation that the number of cases in children is going to decline anytime soon.”
Health officials yet again urged vaccination for those eligible, reiterating the state has plenty of vaccines left. Dobbs noted since the delta variant has surged cases to the highest levels Mississippi’s seen, vaccination rates have more than tripled from five weeks ago.
“People are recognizing the danger of delta,” Dobbs said. “Most of these folks we are losing in these coming days could’ve made it if they’d been vaccinated beforehand.”
Have a health story? Or a health-related tip? Send it along to [email protected], on Twitter at @HaselhorstSarah or call 601-331-9307.