‘At a breaking point’: Mississippi down to 6 open ICU beds as delta rips through younger, unvaccinated populations


JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) leaders said Wednesday their health system, like others in the state, is being overwhelmed by the spiking number of new COVID-19 cases, almost entirely in people who are unvaccinated.

Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC COVID-19 incident commander, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, said the hospital is seeing more pediatric patients and younger adults who have contracted the delta variant.

As of August 4, UMMC had 94 COVID-19 patients, and 12 to 13 of those patients are pediatric patients, the overwhelming majority of those patients haven’t been vaccinated.

UMMC officials also said there’s only six ICU beds available throughout the state.

“We are at this moment over capacity,” Woodward said. “We have been over capacity here at the medical center most of the summer, honestly. It almost starts to feel like a new normal, but it’s not.”

She said UMMC has been forced to resort to holding non-COVID patients in the emergency department and in recovery rooms after surgery since there are no available private rooms.

The hospital is also short-staffed, and officials say there is a growing sense of frustration.

It is almost impossible to put into words the frustration that [the health care workers] feel, that we all feel, and the disappointment that, ‘here we are again.’ [There is ] disappointment and honestly some low level of anger.  There are a lot of people in health care right now that feel pretty mad about this situation and part of it is because we know more now. Now, we have a safe and effective tool that we did not have at this time last year. We’ve got the vaccine.

Dr. LouAnn Woodward

Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs and COVID-19 clinical response leader, said units at the hospital are empty because the hospital cannot staff them.

Jones said UMMC and other hospital systems in the state are “at a breaking point.”

“We are not [infinite] resources. We can break. We can have to close,” he said. “I think we’re rapidly heading to that direction.” Jones also encouraged people to get the vaccine and wear face masks.

Jones said the highly contagious delta variant is already ripping through hospital staff, causing call-outs and quarantine periods that have further reduced the available number of first responders.

Like Dr. Woodward, Jones said that the current wave of COVID hospitalizations and deaths is different from that of 2020.

“We’re seeing a different demographic, younger people and kids, Jones said. Likely because of vaccine coverage, older adults are the ones with the higher vaccine coverage. The younger adults, younger than 50, and pediatric ages [who have] much lower vaccine prevalence, those are the people we’re seeing get sick, and those are the people we’re seeing dying without the vaccine.”

In July 2021, UMMC leaders announced a new policy in July that requires anyone who works or learns in a UMMC-controlled space to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with limited exceptions, or wear an N95 masks. The policy went into effect on July 26, 2021. Woodward said she hoped to see more health systems put a similar policy in place.

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