ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Mississippi is heading for a title that no state would want. According to researchers at Harvard, it is about to become the No. 1 state for new coronavirus infections per capita. Dr. LouAnn Woodward is the top executive at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and she joins us now.
Thank you for taking the time today.
LOUANN WOODWARD: Absolutely. I'm glad to speak with you this evening.
SHAPIRO: Well, first just tell us what things look like from where you sit right now.
WOODWARD: We have sadly held a couple of titles that nobody would really want to have. As a state, we have very often held that No. 1 title, whether it's rates of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, et cetera. Of course, the challenges specific to this pandemic are new and different, but they are layered on top of our existing challenges. So most of the major-sized hospitals in the state have had challenges with capacity, particularly ICU capacity, in these last few weeks.
SHAPIRO: Well, you say hospitals are already challenged with capacity. And the numbers are going up. They're not flat or going down. So what does that mean as you look to the next few weeks?
WOODWARD: So we have not yet, we believe, hit our peak, nor have we certainly started on the downhill trend. So we anticipate and expect that these next few weeks will continue to be very challenging and, in fact, will bring a couple of new challenges for us as we try to get back into the routine of starting school. But we do anticipate that we will see more increase in our numbers of positive cases, which then, of course, a few weeks later, we have increased number of hospitalizations and a couple of weeks after that, increased numbers of deaths.
SHAPIRO: Paint a picture for us. When you say this is challenging for hospitals and it's going to get worse, what does that actually look like in the ICU?
WOODWARD: So our ICUs are full. I mean, that is the bottom line. We have been full for several weeks. When other hospitals around the state call us for help, we're unable to take their patients. We've had to assist a number of times in having patients transferred actually out of state. The patients with COVID are staying typically longer than many of our critical care patients. So they are tying up beds for a longer period of time. As the time goes on, what we're really seeing is a fatigue that our own particularly critical care teams but also emergency department teams and our COVID units are experiencing. And part of that challenge is we don't know the endpoint.
SHAPIRO: You're saying people are already overextended, they are stretched to the brink, and they are going to have to keep stretching farther and extend themselves even more.
WOODWARD: That's right. We know this is not forever. You know, we know that there is a term limit on our acute dealings with this virus and this pandemic. But it is unknown at this point. And so that adds to the fatigue and to the concern that I have for our staff.
SHAPIRO: Do you feel like state officials are your partners in this? There is no statewide mask requirement. Restaurants and bars are open. I mean, does it feel like politicians in the state are listening to you when you say how dire the situation is?
WOODWARD: It is very difficult because the governor is practically on a daily basis adding new counties to the mask mandate as we have an increase of cases in particular counties. And I wish that he would proceed to a statewide mask mandate. But there are a lot of citizens in the state of Mississippi that would not support that, so our state officials are in a pickle, honestly, because they are in a bind between what the medical profession is telling them and what they know would be the opinion of a lot of the people in the state of Mississippi.
Speaking from a medical standpoint, if you look at the data, what we have been doing has not changed the trajectory of our number of hospitalizations, the number of new cases, et cetera. We need to do something different.
SHAPIRO: That's Dr. LouAnn Woodward, one of the leaders at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She is also an emergency medicine physician.
Dr. Woodward, thank you for talking with us, and good luck with your response.
WOODWARD: It's a pleasure. Thank you.
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