JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is closing its only remaining parking garage field hospital set up to treat coronavirus patients during the delta variant surge, but it is still relying on out-of-state workers to help increase ICU capacity in state hospitals, officials said Wednesday.
Health officials also reported the state's seventh child death from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic and raised alarms about a string of deaths in unvaccinated pregnant women. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said eight pregnant women with coronavirus have died over the past four weeks.
“We do know that COVID is especially problematic and dangerous for pregnant women,” Dobbs said.
The health officer said COVID can be deadly for babies in the womb, too. Very preliminary data collected by the Department of Health indicates that babies are twice as likely to die in the womb after 20 weeks in COVID-19 infected pregnant women than in women without the virus, he said.
“It’s been a real tragedy," he said.
Jim Craig, senior deputy for the Mississippi Department of Health and Director of Health Protection, said the state is seeing a small improvement in hospital bed availability, but ICU capacity continues to be “very scarce.”
“The bed capacity for ICU space is effectively zero still in the state of Mississippi,” Craig said. Craig said the Department of Health has applied to extend the support of federal partners working at the Jackson and Biloxi Veterans Affairs hospitals, the 23-person Department of Defense military team at the University of Mississippi Medical center and a group working on monoclonal antibody administration at the university.
A total of 1,660 people were hospitalized with coronavirus in Mississippi on Aug. 18, compared with 1,285 on Tuesday. A Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker showed that as of Tuesday, Mississippi had the ninth-highest COVID-19 rate in the U.S. The state had 79.5 new cases and 1.3 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Craig said the field hospital set up by Christian relief charity Samaritan’s Purse was in the process of decommissioning. A different field hospital on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus set up with health care workers from the federal government was already decommissioned last month.
Craig said the field hospitals are closing because of the decrease in hospitalizations and the increase of health care workers coming in from out of state to support hospitals.
“It’s been a rough month and a half of the delta surge. It has really been stressful. It’s overwhelmed by our health system, and it’s caused a lot of unnecessary deaths," Dobbs said. "Fortunately, we are starting to see an inflection point with somewhat of a decline in hospitalizations, and daily cases."
Dobbs said vaccine hesitancy continues to be a problem in the state. Mississippi is nearing 1.5 million — almost half the state's population — people who have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
“We are making some progress," he said. "... But we don't have near enough people in the state who are immune.”
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said Mississippi was reporting its seventh pediatric death of the virus since the start of the pandemic — a child less than a year old.
However, Byers said the state is seeing a slight decrease in coronavirus cases in schools. Schools are required to self-report information on cases and students quarantined to the state. For the week of Aug. 30 through Sept. 3, 15,000 students were on quarantine, compared with 23,000 in the previous week and 28,000 in the week before that.