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Space in hospital ICUs — locally and statewide — is growing more scarce

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi, like states across the country, is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases, forcing state leaders to take additional steps and causing state health officials — both on the local and state level — more concern.

For several days last week, there were no Intensive Care Unit beds available in Jackson, and hospitals are facing intense stress.

“We’re really entering into dark days,” said Dr. Alan Jones, assistant vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which had zero ICU beds available Monday. “I really think it’s going to get bad for quite a while before it gets better.”

Locally, Merit Health River Region has also announced that space within its facility is scarce.

As of Wednesday, officials said all of the Vicksburg hospital’s ICU beds are occupied, but that “bed status is very fluid and availability fluctuates daily.” The hospital also announced that as of Wednesday, there were three COVID-19 positive patients on ventilators.

“We have a surge plan in place and can adjust volumes as needed in coordination with other healthcare facilities. We are grateful for the commitment and skills of our leaders and caregivers who continue to respond to this pandemic,” Merit Health River Region spokesperson Leigh White said. “As always, we are prepared to care for all patients who need medical attention, and we encourage patients experiencing a medical emergency to seek care promptly.”

Gov. Tate Reeves Monday added seven more counties to the growing list of counties now facing state-ordered mask mandates.

The new counties under the mandate are Hinds, Madison, Pontotoc, Tate, Winston, Itawamba and Montgomery. The 15 already under a mandate were Benton, Carroll, Covington, DeSoto, Forrest, Harrison, Humphreys, Jackson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Leflore, Lee, Marshall, Rankin and Yalobusha.

“Wearing a mask helps,” Reeves said. “It helps you. It helps your family. It helps your friends.”

While not under a state order, Warren County is under a mask mandate put in place by the Warren County Board of Supervisors. The board’s order extends through the start of January. The city of Vicksburg also has a mask mandate that extends through Dec. 2.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. has also announced a special mask mandate for the Thanksgiving holiday. Beginning Thursday, Nov. 26, masks will be required indoors and now outdoors when social distancing is not possible. That special mandate expires midnight Sunday, Nov. 29.

The state Health Department said Monday that Mississippi, with a population of about 3 million, has reported more than 138,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 3,619 deaths from COVID-19 as of Wednesday evening. 

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, health officials are worried that numbers could rise even more. Physicians have been urging families to stick to small gatherings and avoid large parties and events where vulnerable populations could be put at risk for coronavirus infection.

“We don’t really want to see Mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas,” said Dr. Mark Horne, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association. “It’s going to happen. You’re going to say ‘Hi’ at Thanksgiving, ‘It was so great to see you,’ and you’re going to either be visiting by FaceTime in the ICU or planning a small funeral before Christmas.”

In a virtual conversation with Horne on Friday, state Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs asked that college students and other people returning home for the holidays get tested before seeing family members and isolate themselves in the days before making a trip.

“We know that a lot of folks are going to go back home for the holidays, but we don’t want them taking coronavirus with them,” Dobbs said. “Right now, it’s time to take care of yourself, take care of your family and take care of your vulnerable because it is out there in force.”

 

Vicksburg Post editor Tim Reeves contributed to this report.