Louisiana and Mississippi health systems on brink of collapse as low-vaccinated regions suffer

Louisiana and Mississippi health systems on brink of collapse as low-vaccinated regions suffer
200416-N-PH222-1039 LOS ANGELES (April 16, 2020) Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Brennan Leary, from Johnstown, Pa., treats a patient in an intensive care unit aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) April 16. Mercy deployed in support of the nation's COVID-19 response efforts, and will serve as a referral hospital for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based hospitals. This allows shore base hospitals to focus their efforts on COVID-19 cases. One of the Department of Defense's missions is Defense Support of Civil Authorities. DoD is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency, as well as state, local and public health authorities in helping protect the health and safety of the American people. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden)

Though coronavirus outbreaks largely driven by the ultra-contagious Delta variant are now even occurring in U.S. counties where over half the population is vaccinated against Covid-19, as of Friday afternoon the hospitals in two states with among the nation's lowest vaccination rates—Louisiana and Mississippi—were dangerously overwhelmed.

Louisiana has seen the most Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days compared to every other state in the country, and only 38% of Louisianans are fully vaccinated, according to data from The New York Times.

Mississippi has the third-most recent cases in ranking, and only has a vaccination rate of 35%. Both states have seen major increases in hospitalizations over the past two weeks.

Since the U.S. inoculation effort began, public health experts—including the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci—have repeatedly emphasized that the authorized vaccines not only lower the risk of getting Covid-19 but also decrease the chances of hospitalization or death for vaccinated individuals who experience a "breakthrough" infection.

That position was backed up by a Times analysis involving 40 states and Washington, D.C. published earlier this week—though the newspaper noted that the data "generally spanned the period from the start of the vaccination campaign until mid-June or July, before the Delta variant became predominant in the United States."

The Times found that "fully vaccinated people have made up as few as 0.1% of and as many as 5% of those hospitalized with the virus in those states, and as few as 0.2% and as many as 6% of those who have died."

In Louisiana, vaccinated people were 1% of all Covid-19 hospitalizations and 1.4% of deaths. In Mississippi, those figures were 0.4% and 0.6% percent, respectively. Florida—one of the other states experiencing a large surge in infections and with a vaccination rate of 50%—was among the states not included in the analysis.

Currently, about 90% of coronavirus patients in Louisiana hospitals are not fully vaccinated, The Guardian reported Friday, citing the state's department of health. The report continued:

While fear of the Delta variant has led to some increase in vaccinations in the state, Louisiana's healthcare system is straining to keep up with the rate of new infections. Hospitals in southwest Louisiana have diverted ambulances to Texas to find a facility with the capacity to take care of patients. Southwest Louisiana, which was devastated by Hurricane Laura last year, has the lowest vaccination rate in the state.

There are fewer intensive care unit beds in the region than there were… the day after Hurricane Laura came ashore as a Category 4 storm, said Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh, the regional medical director for Region 5. "It's incredible that we had more capacity the day after Hurricane Laura, with hospitals evacuating—with no power and no water—than what we have right now," she said.

The influx of sick Covid-19 residents is overwhelming ambulances too, which are responding to significantly more calls, said Dr. Chuck Burnell, the chief medical officer for Acadian Ambulance. "Delta is very bad," he said. "It's put a strain on every facet of the healthcare system."

Staff shortages are also an issue across the state, with over 6,000 open nursing positions.

Louisiana neurologist Robin Davis, who has come in on her days off to relieve nurses at Ochsner Medical Center in a New Orleans suburb, told The Associated Press, "I was giving bed baths on Sunday, emptying trash cans, changing sheets, rolling patients to MRI."

"We're trying to provide the most consistent care we can, but to do that we need more hands," Davis said. "One of the biggest issues for our nurses is, the volume of patients is such that we're having to create beds that didn't previously exist."

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in late July that 45 hospitals had requested assistance from the state for additional resources.

"It pains me to say this, but this surge is on us. How bad it gets, how long it stays bad, how many people ultimately die—on us," the Democrat said last month, pleading with the public to get vaccinated. "We can do better. It's entirely within our control."

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, one expert is warning the entire hospital system could soon collapse.

"If we track back a week or so when we look at the case positivity rate, the rate of new cases, the rate of hospitalizations—if we continue that trajectory within the next five to seven to 10 days, I think we're going to see failure of the hospital system in Mississippi," Dr. Alan Jones said Wednesday.

Jones is the associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC)—which, as Mississippi Today reported Thursday, "is so overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients during the state's worst wave of cases that it is constructing a field hospital in a parking garage to increase capacity."

The UMMC expert's warning came the same day that Mississippi broke its daily records for new Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and intensive-care use. According to the state health department, while 4,412 cases were confirmed on Wednesday, 1,490 people were hospitalized and 388 were in intensive care.

"Let us be very clear," the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, told the AP, "that the vast majority of cases and hospitalizations and deaths are unvaccinated."

As Common Dreams reported last week, stories of American patients on their deathbeds, expressing regrets about not getting vaccinated, continue to circulate on social media.

Bryan Thompson, a 43-year-old Mississippi man, didn't lose his life but did lose part of a limb. After declining to get vaccinated, he contracted Covid-19, and eventually had to be rushed to the emergency room, where doctors found several blood clots in his leg.

"It eventually got to the point where there was just no hope to save anything," Thompson told Fox 8 last month. "I had to have my leg, it's been amputated from right underneath my knee."

"People are saying, you know, what's the point of getting the vaccine. I can still get [Covid-19]. And then yes, that's true. I'm not gonna lie to you—you can still get it," he added. "But the chances of it being so severe to where you lose a leg, like I have, I've lost my leg. Like I can't… there's a lot of things that I'm not going to be able to do anymore in my life."


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