Delayed hospitalizations. A clogged 911 system. Field hospitals. How the COVID wave is spreading across the US

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(NEXSTAR) – The surging delta variant of COVID-19 has hit the South particularly hard, but other regions of the country are feeling the heat as well.

U.S. health officials Wednesday recommended all Americans get COVID-19 booster shots to shore up their protection amid the delta variant surge and evidence that the vaccines’ effectiveness is falling.

The plan, as outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top authorities, calls for an extra dose eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The doses could begin the week of Sept. 20.

This variant has a higher hospitalization rate than others, which is straining hospitals even with case numbers not yet reaching levels seen in previous waves.

Non-COVID patients in states like Hawaii are experiencing delays in critical care, as Jack Reid discovered. Reid has congestive heart failure and has had several heart attacks over the years. Last Sunday, he started having heart palpitations.

“I felt it in my chest,” Reid said. “Couldn’t even walk down the stairs of my house.”

He didn’t want to go to the hospital due to the coronavirus situation, and instead used his heart monitoring device to send the data to his doctor, who told him to get to the hospital immediately.

He went and was told there was no room for him.

“I’m scared,” Reid said. “I’m really scared. Because of this, I could die right here without ever seeing my wife again. Without seeing my kids, without seeing my grandkids. I had a great-grandson born yesterday morning that I might never see.”

Late afternoon on Aug. 17, after a week of waiting, the hospital found space for Reid to be transferred and receive his heart screening.

Doctors and health officials in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma have all warned that their systems are near the breaking point, with some transferring patients out of state for care because beds in their facilities are full.

“If you get into a car accident, have a heart attack, need an emergency surgery or, yes, even if you have a stroke, there is a chance you might not get the time-sensitive care you need. These are all medical emergencies where every minute is crucial, and when our hospitals are filled to capacity, we are just not able to provide the timely care that we normally offer,” said Dr. Bahar Malakouti, neurohospitalist and stroke medical director at Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City.

“The minute a bed opens, a patient is waiting in our ER to fill that bed or it has already been promised to a patient waiting in another hospital to be transferred,” said Malakouti.

She says the progression of this latest COVID strain has them all concerned.

“Patients wake up with a cough on Monday and by Friday, we’re having to tell their families there’s nothing else we can do,” she said.

The concerns were echoed in Kansas and Missouri.

“I think we’re in trouble here,” said Dr. Steve Stites, Chief Medical Officer at the University of Kansas Health System.

“I said once before, … last fall, that we were on fire. And I think we’re on fire again,” Stites said. “I think the problem is that we don’t have enough people vaccinated. And then folks are not following the rules of infection prevention and control.”

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The surge is also hitting 911 and EMS systems, with the fire chief in one Florida county asking families in the area to avoid using 911 for COVID-related calls.

“This is causing an ambulance shortage across the county and is causing long wait times for 911 callers,” said Pasco County Fire Chief Scott Cassin. “If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 such as fever, sore throat or cough, contact your physician, urgent care center or the Department of Health for testing to help reduce the impact on area emergency departments.”

Meanwhile, the school board in another Florida county held an emergency meeting after more than 8,000 students were quarantined or in isolation.

Mississippi has opened its second field hospital to treat patients just a few days after opening the first.

University of Mississippi Medical Center spokesperson Marc Rolph was somber about unfolding events.

“It’s unbelievable that we’re doing this again within, what, six days? Heartbreaking,”

Mississippi’s State Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, knows many of those infected will be young.

Unlike earlier surges, this wave is predominately impacting younger, unvaccinated people just as classes are resuming, Dobbs said. More children are hospitalized than ever, and one between the ages of 11 and 17 died just last week.

“Instead of seeing women bury their parents, we’re seeing women bury their children,” he said on a visit Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a sad and heartbreaking thing.”

States take different tracks on masks

The warnings come as states take very different approaches to masks in public places and schools.

New York City’s vaccine mandate for restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues began on Tuesday, but one business owner in Brooklyn says she won’t turn away unvaccinated customers.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Tuesday that masks will be mandatory for all students in grades kindergarten through 12 statewide.

Other governors have taken a different approach, pushing bans on mask requirements in schools.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to his office, who said the Republican is in good health and experiencing no symptoms.

The diagnosis comes one day after he was recorded not wearing a mask at a crowded, indoor event full of supporters who also weren’t wearing masks.

Abbott has rebuffed calls to reimpose pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates, as cases in Texas are again soaring, hospitals are stretched thin and a growing number of school districts defy his orders that prohibit face covering requirements in classrooms. Abbott and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton are now in court fighting many of Texas’ largest school districts, which began classes this week.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday upped the pressure on the growing number of public school districts defying a state ban on mask mandates as they try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. School districts with current mask mandates will have 10 days to rescind them or lose out on money from a $163 million school grant program he created using federal virus relief funds.

In all, at least 16 districts in Arizona are requiring students and staff to wear masks while indoors amid fears over the delta variant. The districts collectively account for 198,000 students and nearly 300 schools, most in Tucson and metro Phoenix.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been criticized for opposing mask mandates and vaccine passports, is now touting a COVID-19 antibody treatment in which a top donor’s company has invested millions of dollars.

DeSantis has been flying around the state promoting Regeneron, a monoclonal antibody treatment that was used on then-President Donald Trump after he tested positive for COVID-19. The governor first began talking about it as a treatment last year.

Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund, has $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceutical, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Citadel CEO Ken Griffin has donated $10.75 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis — $5.75 million in 2018 and $5 million last April.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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