The University of Mississippi Medical Center is clearing out space in the bottom floor of a parking garage to prepare for the construction of a field hospital to handle the burden of an overwhelming influx of new COVID-19 patients. With no staff available to work the excess space, the hospital is requesting federal support in the form of medical professionals to bolster an exhausted and overworked care team.
UMMC has broken its own record for volume of hospitalized COVID-19 patients three days in a row. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs stated earlier this week that the surge would only continue. Today, the Mississippi State Department of Health announced 3,163 new cases of COVID-19. Yesterday, that number was 3,488, the highest single-day report of the entire pandemic.
Dr. Alan Jones, director of UMMC’s emergency department, had a stark warning for the state. “If we continue on this trajectory, within the next five to seven or ten days we will see the failure of the hospital system in Mississippi,” he said.
What does that failure look like? UMMC chief Dr. LouAnn Woodward said the nightmare scenario was “total diversion” for the entire hospital, bringing up Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta, which has now been forced to divert all transfers, the final stage of total resource saturation.
Outside, Garage B is busy with the sound of construction. Concrete blocks line the empty parking lot, tents already posted beneath harsh fluorescent light. UMMC leadership is rushing to have the field hospital established by Friday, and anticipates that the federal government will provide assistance in the form of nurses, paramedics and other emergency responders.
Every report carries the guarantee that a portion of the newly infected will be hospitalized before long. The state health officer has taken to translating new case reports into expected proportions of the critically sick and the dead. UMMC’s over-capacity situation is only expected to worsen in light of that fact.
“Keep in mind – this will translate into around 500 new hospitalization(s) in coming days, and we have ZERO ICU beds at Level 1-3 hospitals, and we have > 200 patients waiting in ERs for a room,” Dobbs wrote on social media on Monday.
The state is now exceeding the worst days of the winter surge, in spite of over a third of the population being fully vaccinated. All public-health officials that the Mississippi Free Press has spoken with agree that the incredibly contagious delta surge is to blame.
UMMC Executive Director of Communications Marc Rolph confirmed that UMMC was making room for the field hospital in a morning interview with the Mississippi Free Press, in addition to a request for federal assistance with staffing. The Mississippi State Department of Health is the primary initiator in the request for federal assistance: the request is being made in conjunction with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Office of Gov. Tate Reeves, and UMMC.
“These big (new case) numbers will correlate with people, in the future, who need clinical intervention,” Rolph said.
The public medical center briefly operated a field hospital in the earliest days of the pandemic, when fear and confusion over the virus and a lack of testing options made an external site an ideal spot for providing COVID-19 tests and triage. But the state is now blanketed in testing options with active hospitalizations UMMC’s greatest concern.
UMMC will hold a press conference at 1:30 this afternoon to describe the worsening situation. One hour later at 2:30 p.m., MSDH will hold its own weekly press briefing. Mississippi’s state of emergency is still set to expire on Sunday, Aug. 15. Gov. Reeves has yet to confirm whether he will extend the order, having announced prior to the delta surge that he would let it lapse. Rolph could not say for sure if or how a lapsed emergency order would affect the request for federal support.
Watch, listen or read/search full transcript of State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explaining on MFP Live how the delta variant spreads, its dangers and specific safety precautions from school assemblies, to flying, to masking.