Mississippi Hospitals Are on the Brink of ‘Total Failure’ Because of the Delta Variant

Mississippi has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with just over a third of all residents fully vaccinated.
The ICU Covid-19 ward at NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro, Arkansas, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Mississippi and Arkansas face shortages of available intensive care beds as the delta variant sparks yet another surge in coronavirus cases ar
The ICU Covid-19 ward at NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jonesboro, Arkansas, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Mississippi and Arkansas face shortages of available intensive care beds as the delta variant sparks yet another surge in coronavirus cases around the country, reports NBC News. (Houston Cofield/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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The Delta variant of COVID-19 is inundating the nation’s hospitals with caseloads not seen since last winter, and in Mississippi, the current wave has been catastrophic. 

The state is seeing its highest outbreak of COVID cases yet, and given that Mississippi has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country—just over a third of all residents fully vaccinated—it’s not surprising that Mississippi’s rate of hospitalization is more than double the national average. And now Mississippi health officials are sounding the alarm about just how bad things are. 

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​​“Since the pandemic, I think the thing that hospitals have feared the most is just total failure, total failure of the hospital system,” Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital, said at a Wednesday press conference. “If we continue that trajectory within the next five to seven to 10 days, I think we’re going to see failure of the hospital system in Mississippi.”

Jones said hospitals were full “from Memphis to Gulfport, Natchez to Meridian,” and offered a hypothetical to illustrate just how dire the situation has become. “School is starting back,” Jones told reporters. “If there were a bus wreck of kids, we would not be able to take care of all those kids at this hospital.”

As has been the case all over the country, this wave of COVID-19 has also hit children harder than previous waves. Jones said Wednesday that UMMC’s Children’s of Mississippi hospital in Jackson is currently at capacity, and that of the hospital’s 26 COVID-19 patients, six are in the ICU and four are on ventilators.

Despite the dire situation, Mississippi’s Republican Gov. Tate Reeves called the CDC’s guidance for vaccinated people in high-transmission areas to mask indoors “foolish,” and has so far refused to reintroduce mask mandates there—though unlike his counterparts like Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas, he’s leaving the decision to mask in schools up to the districts themselves.

On Wednesday, Reeves posted on Facebook that his administration was “calmly making decisions based on the best available data to manage the situation and mitigate its impact on our people.” Those measures have included delaying elective surgeries, requesting healthcare professionals from other states to help deal with the surge—Reeves said Mississippi needs more than 900—and opening new field hospitals, including one in UMMC’s parking garage.

But on Wednesday, UMMC vice chancellor Dr. LouAnn Woodward told reporters the field hospital was “not permanent.” 

“We do know it will be helpful and will be additive to the system,” Woodward said. “It’s really a bandaid. It’s not a final answer.”