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Despite Waning Delta Wave, Mississippi ICU Capacity Still ‘Effectively Zero’

Jim Craig, wearing glasses and a black polo shirt with the MSDH logo
The Mississippi State Department of Health’s Director of Health Protection Jim Craig warned that hospitals across the state are still filled with patients waiting to be transferred out of the emergency room and into intensive care unit beds. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

While the delta wave has declined significantly in Mississippi, the state’s intensive-care units are still full due to weeks of sky-high viral transmission. Public-health officials met with the press on Thursday to acknowledge the continuing severity of the pandemic, reflecting on the long-term consequences of the pandemic, from diabetes to death. 

State Epidemiologist Paul Byers warned that, although Mississippi’s overall situation is improving, the condition of hospitals in the Magnolia State was still poor. “When you look at our numbers for folks on the ventilator, or who are in the ICU for COVID, we’re seeing some decreases, but we’re still at overall very high levels,” Byers said.

Mississippi State Department of Health’s Director of Health Protection Jim Craig estimated intensive-care unit capacity to remain “effectively zero,” with 151 patients across the state awaiting a permanent placement in another hospital setting. Craig explained that 71 of those patients are in need of an ICU bed. Only six of the 71 waiting for beds as of Thursday morning were COVID-19 patients. All hospitalized Mississippians are struggling with the shortages resulting from the COVID-19 surge, even those without the virus.

Today, MSDH announced 2,321 new cases of COVID-19 and 49 deaths. Hospitalizations dropped below 1,000 for the first time since rising above that number during the delta surge. COVID-19 patients in the state’s ICU’s are down to 350 from delta peaks of nearly 500, although that number is still comparable to the worst days of the winter surge.

As a result, Mississippi’s hospital system remains under a system-of-care order, which severely restricts elective surgeries and centralizes patient transfers. Staffing remains the key issue restricting hospital capacity. “Efforts through our federal partners to increase ICU staffing capacity for the care of the COVID patients continue,” Craig said on Thursday.

Dr. Paul Byers
State Epidemiologist Paul Byers warned that many unknowns remain in our understanding of the long-term effects of COVID-19. Photo courtesy State of Mississippi

At the press event, MSDH acknowledged that Mississippi is now the national leader in COVID-19 deaths, a fact Mississippi Free Press reporter Ashton Pittman first reported on Sep. 14. Today, even by outdated estimates of Mississippi’s population, the state has suffered more COVID-19 fatalities than any other per capita, surpassing New Jersey and other northeastern states that experienced the majority of their deaths in the initial outbreak, before health-care workers knew how to treat the virus.

At the press event, State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs again acknowledged that Mississippi’s death toll—which, compared to other countries, ranks behind only Peru—was the consequence of the uncontrolled spread of late summer. 

“We predicted that we’d be number one in per capita mortality. It’s not that there’s no hard statistics to figure out when things are not going to go well,” Dobbs said. “We still have far too many people in Mississippi who are not immune either from natural infection or from immunization.” 

Mississippi’s future, the state health officer said, could still be changed—with the right precautions and with vaccination. “The place where we are was not inevitable. The place where we go is not inevitable,” he concluded.

Byers acknowledged the Mississippi Free Press’ reporting on the surge in pediatric diabetes, saying that MSDH was following the potentially COVID-19-linked increase in diagnoses. “We’ve been aware of those reports. … I think that’s going to be one of those things that we’re going to have to watch in Mississippi. It could well be another hit for (diabetes in Mississippi), especially when we look at the number of pediatric cases that we’ve seen with this most recent delta surge,” Byers said.

The long-term effects of COVID-19 are still poorly understood. Byers stressed that the concerning diabetes statistics emerging from the pandemic are more reason to limit transmission and serious disease through avoiding large gatherings and getting vaccinated. 

“There’s potentially many concerning aspects (here),” Byers said. “What are the long-term effects of COVID? I think it really (highlights) the point that right now, in order to limit what those long-term effects are, we need to go about the business of limiting transmission and protecting the vulnerable population.”

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