JACKSON, Miss. -- Mississippi has surpassed New Jersey as the state with the highest rate of covid-19 deaths in the U.S., with roughly 1 of every 320 Mississippians having died from the coronavirus.
The state's top health official said Thursday that the numbers of new virus cases are still "far more than we'd like to see," and warned that more deaths will follow.
"We're recording well over 2,500 [cases] a day, in recent days, far more than we'd like to see," said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. "A lot of that's going to translate into the tragedy."
Since the start of the pandemic, at least 9,165 people in Mississippi have died of the virus. The state has a population of roughly 3 million and has had one of the worst vaccination rates in the country.
New Jersey was throttled in the spring of 2020 at the start of the pandemic, long before vaccines were available.
Of specific concern during the delta variant surge in Mississippi have been pregnant mothers, Dobbs said. Over the course of the pandemic, 15 pregnant women in Mississippi have died of coronavirus, according to the Department of Health. Eight of those deaths occurred between July 25 and Thursday.
The age range of the mothers who died was between 23 and 40, with the median age being 30. Dobbs said 60% were Black. None of the women were fully vaccinated. One woman had received her first shot.
Dobbs said babies are also at risk.
"We have had late pregnancy loss after 20 weeks among 72 covid patients in the state of Mississippi -- that's far higher than the background rate for stillbirths that we've seen," Dobbs. "To protect the moms and also to protect our babies, we need to prevent covid infection."
Dr. J. Martin Tucker, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said Thursday, "unequivocally, the vaccine should be offered or recommended during pregnancy."
Since the pandemic began, the University of Mississippi Medical Center -- the state's only level one trauma center -- has had 372 admissions related to covid-19 and pregnancy, 30 of whom have ended up in the ICU. He said 16 of those moms have been on ventilators. Two babies have tested positive for covid-19 in the neonatal care unit.
"Those are frightening statistics," Tucker said.
Meanwhile, Louisiana State University has begun the process of ejecting dozens of students for not following covid-19 vaccination rules, according to a spokesman.
LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said Wednesday that the university is contacting 78 students to let them know they are being unenrolled for not following vaccination requirements, WAFB-TV reported.
In August, LSU President William Tate said students would have to show proof of their first vaccine dose by Sept. 10 and show proof of full vaccination by Oct. 15.
Statewide, low vaccination rates and the highly contagious delta variant have been blamed for a fourth surge of covid-19 that has stressed hospitals around the state. Figures released Thursday show hospitalizations continue to drop from last month's peak of more than 3,000. Covid-19 hospitalizations totaled 1,431 in Thursday's figures. Department statistics show declines in almost every region of the state.
About 44% of the state's population is fully vaccinated, according to Thursday's figures, which show that barely half of the population has had one shot of covid-19 vaccine.
The state reported 1,663 new confirmed or probable cases of the disease Thursday, and 48 newly reported deaths attributed to the disease, bringing the Louisiana covid-19 death toll to 13,366.
IDAHO CARE RATIONING
Idaho public health leaders on Thursday expanded health care rationing statewide amid a huge increase in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare made the announcement after St. Luke's Health System, Idaho's largest hospital network, on Wednesday asked state health leaders to allow "crisis standards of care" because the increase in covid-19 patients has exhausted the state's medical resources.
Idaho is one of the least vaccinated U.S. states, with only about 40% of its residents fully vaccinated against covid-19. Only Wyoming and West Virginia have lower vaccination rates.
Crisis care standards mean that scarce resources such as ICU beds will be allotted to the patients most likely to survive. Other patients will be treated with less effective methods or, in dire cases, given pain relief and other palliative care.
Thursday's move came a week after Idaho officials started allowing health care rationing at hospitals in northern parts of the state.
"The situation is dire -- we don't have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for covid-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident," Idaho Department of Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in statement.
He urged people to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.
"Our hospitals and health care systems need our help. The best way to end crisis standards of care is for more people to get vaccinated. It dramatically reduces your chances of having to go to the hospital if you do get sick from covid-19," Jeppesen said.
Kootenai Health in the city of Coeur d'Alene was the first hospital in the state to officially enter crisis standards of care last week.
On Wednesday, nearly 92% of all of the covid-19 patients in St. Luke's hospitals were unvaccinated. Sixty-one of the hospital's 78 ICU patients had covid-19. St. Luke's physicians have pleaded with Idaho residents for months to get vaccinated and take steps to slow the spread of coronavirus, warning that hospitals beds were quickly running out.
Public health officials have warned Idaho residents for weeks to take extra care to ensure they don't end up in hospitals. Last week, Jeppesen said residents should take their medications as prescribed, wear seatbelts and reconsider participating in any activities such as cycling that could lead to injuries.
CALIFORNIA TRANSMISSION LOW
California has less covid-19 transmission than any state in the country, according to federal officials, who Wednesday ranked the state's current coronavirus case rate the lowest in the nation.
More than 82% of Californians age 12 and older have at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Only nine states have more of their populations immunized.
The surge of the delta variant has been a real-life experiment in the effectiveness of vaccines, one that appears to have helped Gov. Gavin Newsom survive a recall election Tuesday. For the most part, places with high vaccination rates have been protected from the virus.
And in California, the delta surge appears to have done something else as well: pushed vaccination rates even higher.
The number of people getting vaccinated in California began to stall in June, but then spiked as the delta variant took hold in late July. Ultimately, about 1.6 million Californians got a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in August, up from the 1.1 million who did so in July.
Information for this article was contributed by Leah Willingham and Rebecca Boone of The Associated Press and Soumya Karlamangla of The New York Times.