Mississippi emergency room visits by suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients is now the highest it’s been since the pandemic began in early 2020. 

The peak of 1,077 visits seen during the first week of January was eclipsed last week with 1,218 visits. The number of weekly COVID-related ER visits has increased 150% over the past month alone. This surge in emergency room visits is being caused by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is up to two times as infectious as the original strain of COVID-19. 

Unvaccinated Mississippians are driving this surge in cases, deaths, hospitalizations and emergency room visits the state is experiencing. Between June 1 and August 1, 97% of COVID-19 cases, 89% of hospitalizations and 85% of deaths were among the unvaccinated. 

In some areas of the state, patients who would normally be in an ICU are having to receive care in an emergency room because there are no ICU beds available, according to Jim Craig, director of health protection for the Mississippi State Department of Health.

The state is currently averaging 131 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day. Only 108 of the 827 adult ICU beds in Mississippi are currently open, with multiple hospitals across the state at maximum capacity.

“This is far exceeding our hospitals’ capacity to take care of them,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said.

READ MORE: COVID-19 has killed thousands of Mississippians this year. All but 37 were unvaccinated.

As scientists continue to collect data on the newest variant that is spreading rapidly, medical experts continue to reiterate that vaccination remains the best protection against contracting the Delta variant. The nation’s leading medical researchers agree that vaccines are nearly as effective against the Delta variant as the original strain, greatly minimizing the chance of infection and nearly eliminating the risks of developing a serious illness.

Studies suggest, however, that being fully vaccinated is the only adequate protection against the Delta variant, as a single shot of either of the two-dose mRNA vaccines provides only weak protection against infection. Of the 2,400 Mississippians who died of COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and July 22 of this year, only 37 were fully vaccinated.

Though Mississippi is no longer last in the nation for the share of its population that has been vaccinated, it still trails 48 other states. Only 34% of Mississippians have been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Will Stribling covered healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.