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Health Officials Say Rising COVID Cases Tax Health Care Systems

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, top right, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, bottom left, and Senior Deputy and Director of Health Protection Jim Craig, bottom right, met Wednesday during the Mississippi State Department of Health’s online press conference.

Mississippi’s State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says he feels like an air traffic controller who is watching two planes crash together each day and can’t do anything to avoid it.

“Just to be honest, it’s exhausting. We’re all kind of emotionally spent,” Dobbs said during a press conference via Zoom Tuesday. “It’s distressing to see what’s going on and know that these deaths are preventable.”

Mississippi reported its highest number of single-day cases Tuesday, with about 3,500 and another 3,100 cases today.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said Mississippi is seeing an increase in the number of deaths, particularly those in their 40s and 50s since many of those 65 and up have been vaccinated.

Dobbs said 97% of all new cases are among those who are unvaccinated. He said 11% of those patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 have been vaccinated and 17% of the deaths were in vaccinated patients with a medium age of 78 with underlying health conditions.

“We have just now surpassed what we’ve seen in the worst of the winter for hospitalizations,” Dobbs said. “Daily (hospital) admissions continue to climb at a staggering rate.”

He said vaccination numbers are up, however.

“We’ve more than tripled our vaccination rate compared to a month ago,” he said. “But we have a long way to go.”

The University of Mississippi Medical Center is opening a mobile 50-bed unit in the hospital’s parking garage that will be manned by health care workers provided by the federal government.

Health officials said that increases among students and teachers are likely over the next few weeks with schools around Mississippi opening their doors – and most without mask mandates.

Also on Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves released a long statement on his social media pages touting the efforts of the state’s emergency management team members.

“We are not panicking,” he wrote. “As we do with every emergency (tornado, hurricane, flooding, ice storm and this pandemic), we are calmly making decisions based on the best available data to manage the situation and mitigate its impact on our people.”

While he acknowledged there was a strain on health care systems around the state, he said the challenge is not the number of available beds, but rather the lack of health care professionals to staff the beds.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been advised hospitals throughout Mississippi have lost nearly 2,000 nurses over the last year,” he said. “Some hospitals lost staff because they laid off employees that never came back. Some staff left due to administrative decisions (such as mandating vaccines). But the reason for the shortage can be debated in the future … the task at hand is to help backfill these vacancies to protect the integrity of our health care system.”

Reeves listed recent decisions made by the state to help the health care system.

1. Mississippi State Department of Health delayed through regulation any elective surgeries from Aug. 1-15.

2. MSDH implemented the System of Care plan the team developed to transport patients to ensure all beds in the state were in use handling the patients they could handle.

3. Added ICU capacity and beds in the System of Care at both the VA facility in Jackson and the VA facility on the Coast.

4. The re-opening of the 50-bed MED-1 facility in the parking garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. This facility should be operational and functional no later than Friday of this week.

5. It has been determined by the MSDH that 920 additional health care professionals are needed in the intermediate term in Mississippi.

6. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has made an EMAC request to other states, as is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for the additional personnel. If this request cannot be filled by other states, the request will be forwarded to FEMA for federal assistance.

7. MEMA has also begun the process of contracting with private entities for additional personnel to be added to existing personnel at hospitals throughout Mississippi as well as at any new facilities that may have to open.

8. MSDH and MEMA have requested an additional 10 teams to open new sites — in addition to the 41 sites already in the state — to administer monoclonal antibodies treatment, which has proven to significantly reduce hospitalizations for patients with COVID.

9. Over 60,000 vaccinations were administered last week alone, and access to the vaccine remains available to every eligible person in the state.

10. The team is considering opening an additional 50-bed facility — possibly Med-2 and possibly a private entity — in the Jackson market. MSDH is in contract discussions with a potential 50-bed facility in the Hattiesburg market.

11. MSDH is discussing options on the State of Emergency and will make a final decision within the next 48 hours on whether or not it needs to be extended.

Reeves did not encourage residents to get vaccinated in his lengthy statement but did end his statement by telling everyone to “be smart, remain calm and ignore all the irrational folks. Do what’s best for you and your family.”

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