Mississippi’s fourth surge of COVID-19 is now in full swing, with the delta variant of the coronavirus firmly entrenched in the state’s unvaccinated population and growing with staggering rapidity day after day. Today, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported 2,326 new cases of COVID-19, a three-day total including cases reported on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

This three-day average of 775 is higher than any single-day total of new cases in recent months. That the new spike comes over the weekend, when fewer employees are available to test samples, renders the numbers even more grim.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs confirmed that the numbers marked the full acceleration of the fourth surge, a concept that no state with half a year of widespread vaccine availability should be forced to endure. “Very sad indeed. Didn’t have to be this way,” he wrote on social media this morning.

The surge, which has only just begun, has already left hospitals across Mississippi gasping for space. MSDH data showed only yesterday that 11 intensive-care units across the state had zero available beds. Last Tuesday, at a University of Mississippi Medical Center press event, Dr. Alan Jones, chairman of the emergency department, warned that “strange transfer patterns” were already emerging, the sign of widespread regional stress on the hospital system. Lack of beds across large geographic areas force bizarre and potentially dangerous transfers across state lines, past nearby hospitals that simply do not have capacity for new patients.

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Confirmed hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients show a rapid incline in new cases: the delta surge. Courtesy MSDH

Packed hospitals and circuitous transfers, already hallmarks of earlier surges, are not the only grim symmetry to this second summer surge. If the weekend’s trends of case counts hold up, they too will align with 2020. One year ago today MSDH announced 792 new cases of COVID-19, roughly the same as today’s average weekend number.

But very different dynamics are at play today than in 2020. For one, roughly one in three Mississippians is fully vaccinated. Public-health officials have repeatedly pointed out that clinical trials of vaccine efficacy, which showed roughly 95% protection against coronavirus, are reflected in Mississippi. The most current data shows 19 out of 20 new cases are coming from unvaccinated individuals. But this smaller pool of potential infections is still ample tinder for a conflagration, the kind emerging today.

Public-health officials are clear—repeatedly, exhaustingly clear—that only vaccination on a wider scale than Mississippi has already accomplished is the solution to the new surge, and to surges almost certain to come after this one. With each new variant, natural immunity is eroded, and often higher infectivity propels the virus’ dangerous new form into newly vulnerable populations.

Long-term care facility outbreaks are significantly lower than last year’s summer surge, thanks to widespread vaccination among patients. But a mostly unvaccinated long-term care staff pool and immunocompromised patients means the number of infections in nursing homes and other medical facilities continues to rise. This new count of LTC outbreaks is threatening the lives of the most vulnerable Mississippians yet again, with no excuse save a willful disregard for a life-saving vaccine.

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.