COVID cases, deaths rising in ‘disaster of our own making’

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Rising COVID-19 cases and deaths in Mississippi are a “disaster of our own making,” according to University of Mississippi Medical Center head LouAnn Woodward.

With more than 4,000 new cases of coronavirus reported Wednesday in Mississippi, the state’s five highest one-day case totals have now all fallen within August 2021.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 4,085 new COVID-19 positive test results — the third-highest one-day total — and 36 more related deaths.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

One more Lincoln County resident has died from COVID-19 and 67 more positive virus cases have been identified in the county as of 3 p.m. Tuesday. Lincoln County has now reported 120 deaths and 4,505 cases over the course of the pandemic.

The state has recorded 396,394 cases and 7,916 deaths.

State hospitalizations for COVID-19 reached a new peak Monday — the latest available MSDH data — with 1,623 in-patients with confirmed infections. With few exceptions, this number has climbed daily since July 27 when 726 were hospitalized. Fifty-nine others were hospitalized with suspected infections; 447 were in intensive care units and 316 were on ventilators.

The state presumes 336,849 people have recovered from COVID-19 infections as of Monday.

Nationally, 36,951,181 people have had infections — 113,993 reported Wednesday — and 620,493 have died — 535 new deaths were reported Wednesday.

Wednesday, Mississippi’s second field hospital opened on the UMMC campus. The first emergency field hospital opened one week ago with federal government backing. The second is spearheaded by Samaritan’s Purse. The Christian relief charity has supplied 32 additional beds and 50 more medical professionals.

“It’s unbelievable that we’re going this again within, what? Six days? Heartbreaking,” said UMMC spokesperson Marc Rolph.

Mississippi’s State Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, knows many of those infected will be young.

Unlike earlier surges, this wave is predominately impacting younger, unvaccinated people just as classes are resuming, Dobbs said. More children are hospitalized than ever, and one between the ages of 11 and 17 died just last week.

“Instead of seeing women bury their parents, we’re seeing women bury their children,” he said on a visit Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a sad and heartbreaking thing.”

Dobbs said the virus situation in Mississippi is the worst its ever been, but even the latest field hospital will have a big impact, saying it would bring care for those “who might not get care of otherwise.”

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said Tuesday that about 20,000 Mississippi students are currently quarantined for COVID-19 exposure — 4.5% of the public school population, according to the latest enrollment figures.

The state called on the federal government for help, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services deployed a team of three dozen physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists last week to set up the first emergency field hospital. That site, in another parking lot at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, is serving 20 patients.

Briefing journalists on Tuesday, Woodward renewed pleas for people to get vaccinated, noting the health care workforce is exhausted and traumatized. Only 34% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

Woodward said that while Samaritan’s Purse is responding to a natural disaster in Haiti, the situation in Mississippi is a “disaster of our own making.”

“We as a state, as a collective, have failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat, we have failed to use the tools that we have to protect ourselves,” she said.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.