NMHS bracing for unpredictable future as Omicron cases surge while staffing shortage gets worse

TUPELO, Miss. (WCBI) – The day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced their updated COVID-19 guidelines, North Mississippi Health Services announced that they are limiting their emergency departments to patients with severe medical issues or who need hospitalization.

NMHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jeremy Blanchard says this is now the second time during the pandemic that they have chosen to limit those emergency departments due to the spike in patients.

It was in August that Dr. Blanchard and other members of NMHS leadership warned residents that the state’s slow vaccination progress could open the door for another COVID variant that would render the shots less effective.

“It was predicted by everyone, but it sure was hoped it wouldn’t be true,” he says.

The current Omicron wave has since made that a reality.


“With Omicron, we’re going to see the same level of infection probably in unvaccinated versus vaccinated, versus previously infected,” he says.

Dr. Blanchard says a significant increase in “very, very sick” patients is stretching NMHS staff and resources even more.

“People are working repeated shifts, people are working under situations they never even entertained so that we can provide care,” he says.

NMHS reports that about 75 employees and providers are currently out after either testing positive for, or being exposed to, COVID.

“When you look at that group, we are seeing about half are vaccinated, half are not vaccinated and then the booster is a smaller number of that half that are vaccinated,” Dr. Blanchard explained.

He says it’s those varying degrees of vaccination that complicate the immediate impact of the CDC’s new shortened isolation periods.

“If they’re asymptomatic, that will help us dramatically as well because asymptomatic can fall within that five days,” he says. “But if someone is symptomatic or has ongoing symptoms or fever, it really will not change our approach.”

Dr. Blanchard says the shortage of healthcare workers is at one of its lowest points of the pandemic. And while U.S. health officials have said the Omicron wave could peak in January, he says that is far from certain.

“If it were to be shorter, if it were to be less acute, less serious, that would truly be a blessing,” he agreed. “Will it be? That I can’t tell you.”

Dr. Blanchard says NMHS has urgent and primary care clinics that offer routine medical care or COVID tests.

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