Mississippi Hospitals Overwhelmed By COVID, On Verge Of 'Total Failure'
Video screenshot, MSNBC

The hospitals in the state of Mississippi are full. We're not talking metaphorically — the sharp rise in COVID-19 infections in the state has left Mississippi's hospitals over capacity, with facilities out of space and too few healthcare workers to care for all the people arriving with severe infections.

The Clarion Ledger reports that the current wave of cases — averaging 2,700 new cases daily — surpasses the winter's outbreak, when vaccines weren't widely available, but also before the extremely infectious Delta variant of the virus became the dominant strain in the US.

"The rate of testing positive and rate of hospitalizations that we are seeing, if we continue that trajectory within the next 5 to 7 to 10 days I think we're going to see failure of the hospital system of Mississippi," said Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs and COVID-19 clinical response leader at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, on Wednesday.

To help deal with the increasing case load, the U of Mississippi Medical Center will open a field hospital in one of its parking garages, which will have beds for as many as 50 patients, and in response to a request from the state, the federal government is sending medical workers to staff the temporary facility; they should arrive tomorrow. In addition, the VA Medical Centers in Jackson and Biloxi will each make five ICU beds available to handle overflow from other hospitals in the state.

Rachel Maddow devoted the first block of her program last night to the Mississippi crisis; here's a general overview of just how bad things are, including Dr. Jones noting that with the start of the school year, the state's hospitals would be unable to handle another disaster such as a bad school bus crash. Already, he said, hospitals are having to turn away arriving ambulances.

That is our nightmare. We do not want to do that. Because we know when we do that, you know, not the COVID patients, but all the other patients, heart attacks, strokes, the things we need to take care of that have time- sensitive care issues, we`re not going to be able to take care of them. And that`s not what we got into health care for.

So, you know, I hope people can just understand, it is a very serious situation. I don`t want to say dire, and I don`t want to say that we have reached the point of failure, but we`re definitely headed that way.

During the same press conference yesterday, Dr. Jones said that the university's pediatric hospital is also full, and that six children were in the ICU, four of them on ventilators. Because there's no room in the pediatric ICU, another 10 kids are "boarding" in the pediatric hospital's emergency room until beds open up. He noted that some of the older teens might be moved to the field hospital in the parking garage once it opens this weekend.

Mississippi's Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, for his part, has been downplaying the severity of the crisis and talking about freedom and personal responsibility, because masks and vaccines might be helpful but he's not about to use his position to push them too loudly. When the CDC recommended that everyone in areas with high rates of COVID transmission wear masks indoors in public, regardless of whether they've had the vaccine, Reeves called the guidance "foolish and harmful" and "not rational science."

It's easy to tell on the CDC's data tracker which parts of Mississippi have a high level of community transmission. Like most of the South, it's the whole goddamn state.

More recently, Maddow noted, Reeves's decision to attend a Republican Governors Association conference in Arizona earlier this week prompted this headline from the Mississippi Free Press: "With Mississippi Hospitals Near Calamity, Gov. Reeves Left State For GOP Political Event." Seems kind of unfair though, since perhaps while he was in Arizona, Reeves could have picked up some great tips on preventing elections.

Reeves has refused to mandate face masks in schools, leaving the decision up to local school boards. It's a small step up from outright forbidding mask mandates like many R governors have, but it's hardly bold leadership. Not when 1,000 Mississippi children tested positive for the coronavirus in just the second week of school.

In a lengthy Facebook post yesterday, a very defensive-sounding Reeves insisted his team is "not panicking" and denounced the "angry rhetoric coming from so many," which we're sure he found very unfair since he's doing such a great job. He said that the problem wasn't a shortage of beds, but a shortage of medical personnel, which he vaguely hinted might have something to do with Joe Biden and too-generous pandemic benefits or something, and also due to mean hospital management trying to keep patients healthy:

Unfortunately, I've been advised hospitals throughout Mississippi have lost nearly 2,000 nurses over the last year. There is a labor shortage in most industries throughout America today and health care is no different. 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…

Yep, damn those vaccines for causing a healthcare worker shortage. And while Reeves did note that the current surge in cases "seems more and more like a 'pandemic of the unvaccinated'" and noted that breakthrough infections have been relatively rare "amongst those who have 'gotten the shot,'" he stopped well short of actually urging Mississippians to get vaccinated. So don't worry, he's remaining quite calm about all this, which brings to mind Molly Ivins's comment about Ronald Reagan's relaxed approach to governing: "If he gets even more sedate, we will have to water him twice a week."

We'll close with another clip from Maddow last night, an interview with nurse Jen Sartin at Singing River Health, a hospital in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, near Gulfport. Sartin spoke during her final shift in the ICU, before transferring to another part of the hospital so she wouldn't burn out altogether.

We have a solution by getting the vaccine, and wearing our masks and doing what we need to do. Nurses are so tired. It's getting to the point where we need help.

We've been helping as much as we can, and we need help from, you know, our community. I respect everybody's choice to get vaccinated or not, but it's just going to continue to get worse. And it's going to get to the point where it affects our kids, you know? We're — that's my biggest fear. It's going to keep mutating, and we've done everything in our power to stop it. [...]

If it keeps going like this, it could get to the point where it hurts our kids. We already have kids on vents in different parts of the state. If, you know, we won't be able to say that we did everything to protect our children. You know, the people that would take a bullet for their kid, it could be as easy as taking a shot. So, it does wear on you to feel like it's not coming to an end any time soon. [Emphasis added]

Jen Sartin almost certainly speaks for many healthcare workers, who have given and worked and cried and mourned past the point of exhaustion for a year and a half, only to see the brief period where it looked like we were beating the virus disappear. And that's almost entirely because charlatans convinced so many people to shun the vaccines that really could have prevented this new surge. Honestly, it's a wonder that they keep going, and it's frightening to think that many simply won't be able to.

[Clarion Ledger / MSNBC / Mississippi Free Press / Mississippi Today / US News]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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