The rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant has pushed U.S. COVID-19 cases to an average of 94,000 a day, the highest number since mid-February, and COVID-19 deaths are up 75 percent in the past two weeks to an average of 426 a day, from 244. Hospitals are once more being overwhelmed in parts of the country, especially those with low vaccination rates.
More than 40 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations are in four states: Georgia (38 percent of the population fully vaccinated), Louisiana (38 percent vaccinated), Florida (49 percent vaccinated), and Mississippi (35 percent vaccinated). Mississippi hospitals had nearly 1,200 COVID-19 patients as of Thursday, and "as of midweek, Mississippi had just six open intensive care beds in the entire state," The Associated Press reports.
The Delta variant is "sweeping across Mississippi like a tsunami," with no end in sight, said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs.
Nationwide, about 45,000 COVID-19 patients are in the hospital, a number that has grown fourfold in the past month but is well below the nearly 124,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in January, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Some states are hitting new pandemic records, though.
In Louisiana, roughly 2,350 coronavirus patients are in hospitals, some of which are delaying elective surgery and, in one case, an organ transplant. In Georgia, with 2,600 COVID-19 patients, dozens of hospitals say they have had to turn away patients this week. And Florida has more than 12,500 hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Thursday, more than 2,500 of them in the ICU.
"We are seeing a surge like we've not seen before in terms of the patients coming," Dr. Marc Napp, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Florida, told AP on Wednesday. "There are only so many beds, so many doctors, only so many nurses."
Texas hospitals are dealing with both skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and "historically low staffing levels," The Texas Tribune reports. The state has 23,000 more unfilled jobs for registered nurses than there are nurses seeking to fill them, the Texas Workforce Commission found. Nurses, burned out after a brutal year fighting COVID-19, are either leaving nursing or taking higher-paying jobs or hiring bonuses to work elsewhere.
"If we don't have enough nurses, we close units," Joycesarah McCabe, chief of nursing at Goodall-Witcher Healthcare hospital near Waco, tells the Tribune. "We close hospitals."