Multiple southern states are grappling with a shortage of ICU beds and hospital capacity as COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the U.S.
The country is seeing the coronavirus storming back, driven by a combination of the highly contagious delta variant and lagging vaccination rates, especially in the South and other rural and conservative parts of the country. New cases nationwide are averaging about 123,000 per day, a level last seen in early February, and deaths are running at over 500 a day, turning the clock back to May.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said hospitalizations continue to rise with more than 2.5 million new admissions between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15.
Alabama runs out of ICU beds
The Alabama Hospital Association said the state is out of ICU beds due to the rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
On Monday, the head of the Alabama Hospital Association says the state had 1,562 intensive care unit beds and 1,560 patients needing intensive care. Dr. Don Williamson says that "this is the greatest demand on the ICU system we’ve ever had."
Alabama has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus and the state’s low vaccination rate. Infections and hospitalization numbers are quickly approaching what they were at the winter peak of the pandemic.
Williamson said COVID-19 patients accounted for 48% of Alabama’s ICU patients Monday. He says the overwhelming majority of them are unvaccinated.
Texas health officials ask for more mortuary trailers
Meanwhile in Texas, only 314 ICU beds are available, according to the website of the department of health and human services.
Texas health officials said they asked for five mortuary trailers from the federal government as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations for COVID-19 reach the highest levels since January. But the Texas Department of State Health Services also said Monday that no local officials so far have reached out with needs for extra mortuary space.
Texas reported more than 11,700 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday, a 17% increase from a week ago. The seven-day daily average of COVID-19 deaths is also back above 50 for the first time since spring.
The pandemic is blamed for more than 52,000 deaths in Texas.
Mississippi reports ‘extreme shortage’ of ICU beds
Mississippi health officials said they have an "extreme shortage of intensive care beds in the state" with 447 COVID-19 patients in the ICU as of Aug. 16.
Mississippi’s only Level I trauma center is setting up a second emergency field hospital in a parking garage to treat some of the sickest COVID-19 patients as the virus continues to ravage the state.
Samaritan’s Purse will set up the mobile intensive care unit with a team of medical staff in a garage near Children’s of Mississippi, the state’s only pediatric hospital. Since the start of the pandemic, the Christian relief charity has set up five other emergency hospitals in areas of the world hard hit by the virus, including New York City and Los Angeles County.
Mississippi, one of least vaccinated states in the country, has seen numbers of new COVID-19 cases double in the past two weeks, surpassing records for hospitalizations all previous surges of the virus since the start of the pandemic.
After facing a shortage of beds and staff needed to treat patients, the University of Mississippi Medical Center set up an emergency field hospital in a different parking garage last week, with the help of the federal government.
In the coming days, an additional tent will be set up where people who are positive for COVID-19 can receive monoclonal antibody treatment, Woodward said.
Florida sees drop in hospitalizations, but increase in ICU cases
In Florida, hospitalizations are going down but ICU cases are still rising.
According to the Miami Herald, more than half of the state’s ICU beds were occupied as of Sunday.
According to a weekly report from the state health department, 286 people died from COVID-19 between August 6 and August 12. The number of positive cases have skyrocketed over the summer, putting the state’s positivity rate around 19%. Vaccinates have also dipped slightly after seeing an increase in July.
Louisiana hospital says ‘no beds left’
Earlier this month, Louisiana’s largest hospital issued an urgent warning this week, saying it has reached "the darkest days" of the COVID-19 pandemic after running out of ICU beds to treat ill patients.
"When you come inside our walls, it is quite obvious to you that these are the darkest days of this pandemic. We are no longer giving adequate care to patients," Dr. Catherine O’Neal, chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, told reporters.
Any non-emergency surgery that might require an overnight stay is being delayed at the hospital.
Several southern states have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. As early as Wednesday, U.S. health authorities are expected to recommend an extra dose of the vaccine for all Americans eight months after they get their second shot, according to two people who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Booster shots would only begin to be administered widely once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration formally approves the vaccines, which are being dispensed for now under what is known as emergency use authorization. Full approval of the Pfizer shot is expected in the coming weeks.
Kelly Hayes and The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.