Mississippi is now well into its third wave of COVID-19, a dangerous swell of cases, hospitalizations, and eventual deaths that threaten the waning school semester and the integrity of the state’s hospital system. Photo courtesy MSDH
Mississippi’s brief reprieve from the rest of the nation’s dire wave of COVID-19 is now firmly over, with last week’s early warning signs replaced with blaring sirens out of schools, hospitals and public-health leadership.
The Mississippi State Department of Health released a statement on Twitter summarizing the disaster looming ahead. “Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are on track toward the crisis level we saw this summer. If we don't make changes immediately, we'll see critical shortages of first-line care for the seriously ill and injured.”
At the same time, MSDH reported 1,271 cases of COVID-19 from Nov. 11, the second day in a row of more than 1,200 cases. Inevitably, deaths will follow the increased cases and hospitalizations. Today’s report of 17 coronavirus fatalities keeps that rate steady, lagging behind the jarring spike in transmission.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, as MSDH warned, are spiraling out of control, rising from a low under 400 in mid-October to over 669 yesterday. Immediately similarities to the cliff encountered in late July that paralyzed the hospital system statewide are immediately apparent.
Worse still, in critical measures, the coming crisis may prove even deadlier than Mississippi’s summer peak. COVID-19 patients undergoing critical care in intensive-care units are also on an upward incline, reaching 194 yesterday, almost double October’s depressed numbers.
But the state’s ICUs are already in an even worse position, by the numbers, than in the hardest days of the summer wave with 782 total ICU beds in use today in Mississippi. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explained the depths of the crisis on Twitter.
“Zero ICU beds in Jackson. Very few elsewhere. Please protect yourself and your family,” Dobbs tweeted. Nearly nine in 10 of Mississippi’s ICU beds are currently occupied, with coronavirus pushing the limits of ICU capacity well above seasonal averages.
Without a sudden reduction in transmission, Thanksgiving gatherings across the state could easily be the tipping point that breaks the fragile balance of the health-care system.
Indoor gatherings of multiple households are nearly impossible to make safe, public health officials warn. Large gatherings especially are likely to cause deadly super-spreader events, which State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers warned the Jackson Free Press on Nov. 4 are responsible for significant spread of the virus across the state.
The key protective measures against COVID-19 have not changed. Consistent and widespread mask use, covering both the mouth and the nose, is the foundational preventative measure that contains the most virulent form of transmission. Social distancing, avoiding enclosed spaces, and ensuring proper ventilation in all indoor settings is also critical. Finally, regularly use of hand sanitizer and hand-washing is an important habit to maintain to prevent contact spread. Mississippians who have yet to receive a flu shot should do so immediately.
Across Mississippi, Schools Closing
Each week that MSDH has released information on COVID-19 exposure in the state’s public-school system, a higher proportion of the state’s students and educational staff have been forced to quarantine after in-school exposures to the virus.
Last week’s report revealed that more than 10,000 students and staff began mandatory two-week quarantines after exposure to infected students. No solid metrics on transmission in school environments is available, though Dr. Dobbs has repeatedly stressed that parties and social gatherings orbiting the school year are the most significant sources of viral spread, not classes.
Not since the initial arrival of the virus in the Magnolia State have so many school districts shifted to virtual learning as this week. The Yazoo County School District has shut down in-person learning until Nov. 16. Lawrence County School District announced yesterday that in-person learning will commence immediately, lasting through Thanksgiving break. Attala County School District announced a two-week transition to virtual learning earlier in the week.
The spike’s disruption of so many individual schools and entire districts’ schedules is evidence of critical community spread of the virus. Schools’ best-laid plans for preventing exposure cannot protect students and teachers alike from massive infections in the environs surrounding the schools.
Read the JFP’s coverage of COVID-19 at jacksonfreepress.com/covid19. Get more details on preventive measures here. Email state reporter Nick Judin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @nickjudin.