Reeves announces plans to increase healthcare staff amid rising COVID-19 cases

Gov. Tate Reeves
Gov. Tate Reeves(WLOX)
Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 12:52 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Gov. Tate Reeves said the state hopes to have additional healthcare officials in place in the coming days to help with the surge in new COVID-19 cases.

“Our challenge is much less about the physical aspect of hospital beds or the physical aspects of ICU beds and much more about staffing them,” he said. “Mississippi hospitals have lost some 2,000 healthcare professionals in the last year. It is that staffing shortage we are having to address.

To that end, the state recently issued a request for proposals seeking 65 physicians, 920 nurses, 41 nurse anesthetists, 59 advance practice nurses, 34 physician assistants, 239 respiratory technicians and 20 EMT paramedics.

The state has received 19 responses from private contractors, and Reeves hopes to have those professionals in place in the next seven days.

If the staffing can be attained, Reeves said it would allow the state to open up more than 700 medical surge beds and 235 intensive care units.

Reeves said he would not be issuing a statewide mask mandate or vaccine mandate for state workers. But did encourage people to wear a mask if they go out in public.

“If that makes you feel most comfortable, I’m all for you doing it,” he said. “I don’t believe in mask-shaming on either side.”

Reeves doubled down on his criticism of the changing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recently said individuals who are vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors in public “if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.”

“When you’re looking at trying to get additional people vaccinated, telling them ‘yeah, you should get vaccinated, but you’re still going to have to do all the same things,’ it tends to curb vaccinations,” he said. “There should be some reward for having people get vaccinated.”

Reeves also said that the CDC’s recommendation to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine likely reduced the number of people willing to get vaccinated. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna shots, requires just one dose.

The state is also seeking additional resources from the federal government, including 150 new ventilators from the national stockpile, more ICU bed capacity at the Veterans Administration Hospitals in Jackson and Biloxi and 10 additional monoclonal therapy teams.

“It’s never been a realistic goal to eradicate us from the virus or to (work to) ensure no one in the state gets in the virus,” Reeves said. “The goal is to protect the system such that every Mississippian who can get better with quality care can receive that quality care.”

The requests for ventilators and bed capacity were approved. However, the state’s request for a Navy ship was turned down.

“The current FEMA administrator was in New York City during the early stages of the pandemic, and what they determined was that they put very few patients, as in almost one, on that particular ship that was docked there in New York City,” he said. “The ask for the ship was as much about the over 500 personnel that came with it (as) the physical facilities.

“We don’t anticipate the U.S.S. Comfort is going to come to Mississippi. We would welcome any of the 550 healthcare professionals on the facility (if the federal) government would like to send them to us.”

Meanwhile, the governor urged Mississippians to continue to get vaccinated against the virus, saying that the current wave is “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

“The total number of the new COVID-19 cases we are reporting, 97 percent of those are found in unvaccinated individuals,” he said. “Approximately 89 percent of the current hospitalizations are those who have not been vaccinated.”

More than 5,000 new cases of the virus were reported Friday, the highest single-day total for Mississippi since the pandemic began.

State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs broke down the numbers further, also highlighting the importance of the vaccination.

Of recent deaths, four were in their 20s, 10 were in their 30s, 12 were in their 40s and 17 were in their 50s and 60s. Only three of those individuals had been vaccinated.

“There is pattern here,” he said. “Clearly we have vaccinate breakthrough, but it’s (the vaccine) been helpful, especially for people in their 30s.”

More than 1.3 million people in Mississippi have been fully or partially vaccinated.

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