Hospitalizations across Mississippi are back to summer peak levels, and COVID-19 is beginning to overwhelm the entire health-care grid that could imperil standards of care for all Mississippians. Photo courtesy MSDH
COVID-19 has led to the hospitalization of an average of 110 Mississippians per day in the last week, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs warned yesterday. That is the second highest weekly average in the history of the pandemic, and a near-doubling in only two weeks, which is easily the most precipitous spike since COVID-19 arrived in the Magnolia State.
The Mississippi State Department of Health announced 1,638 new cases of COVID-19 this morning, driving the seven-day average up to 1,208. Few days outside the highest peaks of summer match this unmitigated community transmission, and yet there is no sign that either the spread of the virus or the behavior of many Mississippians is on track to change.
“Reaching summer high COVID admission rates headed into the holidays. Please be careful and protect your family,” Dobbs warned on Twitter yesterday. “Anticipate an increased in COVID death reports for MS tomorrow.”
The deaths, too, have started their inevitable rise. MSDH’s report included 23 additional fatalities, in line with the grinding daily death toll this week.
Across Mississippi, health-care providers and hospital administrators are sounding the alarms, describing the material conditions that are pushing their institutions into crisis.
COVID-19 hospitalizations are reaching unprecedented levels at Singing River Health System on the Gulf Coast, Chief Executive Officer Lee Bond warned in a public statement. “We hit a new high of 52 COVID inpatients one day earlier this week,” Bond wrote. “Twice in the last week hospitals across the coast from New Orleans to Mobile were largely on ‘diversion,’ implying that they were saturated to the point that they could not take more patients.”
It is this nationwide crisis that makes the recent spike in COVID-19 potentially much more dangerous than the summer highs. What was then a regional shift in illness and hospitalization is now replicated across the country, closing off the possibility for diverting serious cases to less hard-hit areas.
“We need the world to see that most hospitals are on diversion. If the trend does not change, soon there may be nowhere to divert people to,” Bond warned.
In an interview with the Jackson Free Press, Bond expressed his fear that this third spike represented a more significant threat than the earlier surges. “What’s concerning is that the earlier wave was in the summer. This wave is in the winter. People spend more time indoors, other ailments like the flu are prevalent. The possibility of a new (peak) exists,” Bond said.
Bond acknowledged the desire many people have to see family over the holidays. But Thanksgiving gatherings are dangerous. “While the world is experiencing COVID fatigue, now more than ever we need to avoid close face-to-face contact,” Bond said, adding that “If you love ‘em don’t hug ‘em.”
Still, many Mississippians seem determined to carry on with life as usual, clinging to the routine of public gatherings around school sporting events even as those massive clusters prove instrumental to the spread of the virus in Mississippi.
Last night, a photo showed a bleacher packed with unmasked participants at an MAIS 5A football championship held at Jackson Academy. Earlier in the week, Dobbs warned that “prioritization” of youth sports is dangerous to the state of Mississippi and a source of transmission for coronavirus.
“I would just like to say very clearly, everybody, don't go to a sporting event. It's not safe right now,” Dobbs said.
Public health officials have repeatedly expressed confidence in the upcoming vaccine effort, but have also made it clear that Mississippi would require continuing assistance from the National Guard to properly deliver the vaccine.
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.