Mississippi’s delta surge has reached a steady sprint, with the state’s seven-day curve arriving at a harsh holding pattern miles above its previous average. The Mississippi State Department of Health announced 4,041 cases today. Friday’s report is a minor reprieve from the 5,000-plus seen on the previous two end-of-week reports, numbers not seen during the pandemic until delta brought the fourth wave to Mississippi.

Today, the seven-day average of new cases is 3,055, a number roughly equivalent to last winter’s single-day peak. Deaths, too, continue to expand, a consistent mixture of new deaths from the state’s overpacked hospitals and post-mortem identifications of COVID fatalities from previous weeks and months. Today’s MSDH report included 65 new deaths, 35 recent fatalities and 30 dating back through this year.

Public-health leadership have warned that the communal spread of COVID-19 continues to threaten the integrity of Mississippi’s hospital system. Only the arrival of more than 1,000 federally sourced health-care workers has kept the overflow barely contained, spilling out into field hospitals erected across the state.

COVID-19 Cases by Date through August 16, 2021 in Mississippi
Cases are far above previous peak. Only the continued work of Mississippi’s beleaguered hospital workers plus the arrival of more than 1,000 federally funded health-care workers is keeping the system functioning. Graphic courtesy MSDH

Gov. Tate Reeves announced the looming arrival of the emergency medical personnel at this week’s COVID-19 press conference. He detailed the help headed to Mississippi: “808 nurses, three certified registered nurse anesthetists, 22 nurse practitioners, 193 respiratory therapists and 20 paramedics.”

“These are the number of health-care personnel beginning to deploy this morning to 50 hospitals across the state to meet the staffing shortages in our hospitals,” he said.

“I am confident, because we have fulfilled, if not all, the vast majority of requests from hospital administrators themselves. This is going to eliminate any challenges that come before us,” Reeves told the Crirec on Wednesday.

Hospital capacity, which the availability of health-care workers primarily determines, is “in a pretty good spot right now,” Dr. Paul Byers told the Crirec at the same press conference. With the influx of new medical professionals, the state epidemiologist added, the biggest request for Mississippians of all ages was vaccination before infection, and infusions of monoclonal antibodies after infection.

Expert analysis has shown that both vaccination and antibody treatment have powerful effectiveness at reducing hospitalization and death.

COVID-19 LTCF and Non-LTCF Deaths by Date through August 26, 2021 in Mississippi
Mississippi’s COVID-19 death reports are continuing to grow, the consequence of unmitigated spread of the virus across the state. Graphic courtesy MSDH

At MSDH’s own press event the next day, Byers was more reflective in his estimation of the hospital system’s flexibility through the end of summer and into winter. “The stresses on the health-care system will remain,” Byers told the Crirec on Thursday. “A lot of hospitals are still short-staffed, especially nursing, but other health-care professions as well.”

The current federal contracts for the 1,000-plus surge professionals in Mississippi are for 60 days. “I don’t know if (the shortage) will fully resolve through the winter,” Byers acknowledged. “But all hospitals are doing their best to try to increase staffing and stabilize their (need), to be able to support their normal needs as well as their COVID needs, wherever there are gaps,” he added.

Hospital metrics have stabilized throughout the latter half of August, still far north of their greatest previous extent. COVID-19 hospitalizations have lingered at about 1,600 for two weeks now, with ICU patients consistently above 450 and Mississippians on life support with COVID-19 above 300.

For the rest of Mississippi, escape from the delta surge is relatively straightforward. Vaccination remains an enduring defense against hospitalization and death. Vaccinations have increased, week after week, as the delta surge has grown. For the week ending Aug. 21, MSDH reported more than 86,000 new doses, the highest weekly total since mid-April.

Nick Judin began his career in journalism at the Jackson Free Press in 2019, coming on as State Reporter to cover the 2020 legislative session. That posting quickly gave way to a year leading the JFP’s COVID-19 coverage. Nick’s reports from the frontline of coronavirus have repeatedly made national headlines, as he has asked hard questions of state leadership and done critical interviews with the state’s top public-health experts. Email the Jackson, Miss., native at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nickjudin.