State health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs explains how a person might react to a COVID-19 vaccination, right, during Gov. Tate Reeves' covid news briefing, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — As Mississippi's coronavirus hospitalizations continue to surpass records, the state's top health official said Friday that hospitals full with COVID-19 patients can no longer handle elective surgeries, and he's ordering the facilities to start postponing many of the procedures next week.

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi's state health officer, announced the decision on Twitter, saying the state's intensive care unit beds are full and he expects more hospitalizations of coronavirus patients.

“Beginning next Tues elective surgeries that require hospitalization must be delayed - statewide," Dobbs said in his tweet.

An order issued by Dobbs later Friday confirmed the move and spelled out the details: A specific list of elective surgery types that require overnight hospitalization must be delayed starting Tuesday, at least until Dec. 23. The list of procedures include colonoscopies, knee replacements and certain cancer surgeries.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus reached a peak of 1,166 patients Thursday, up from 863 on Nov. 19.

Elective surgeries involve procedures that aren't immediately required to save a life, but can sometimes be critical to treating serious conditions that can worsen without the surgery.

Health officials worry that delays in such types of procedures can cause long-term damage to patients' care, but several states and hospitals have postponed such treatments since the coronavirus pandemic began because of a crush of COVID-19 patients and limited hospital beds and staff.

During a conversation with the Mississippi State Medical Association, Dobbs said Friday afternoon that the decision to delay elective procedures was made after doctors and hospital officials began calling him saying they were overwhelmed.

“When that happens, you know it's bad,” he said.

Earlier in the day, three prominent Mississippi doctors released an open letter to the state's residents urging them to continue to wear masks, wash hands and avoid social gatherings. It was signed by Mississippi State Medical Association's President Dr. Mark Horne, Board of Trustees Member Dr. Jennifer Bryan and Executive Director Dr. Claude D. Brunson.

“The highly anticipated and deadliest third wave that we are currently experiencing is placing an unbearable and unsustainable strain on physicians, healthcare workers, hospitals and medical facilities statewide," the letter reads. "... Physicians, nurses and other first responders are mentally and physically overwhelmed and exhausted.”

One glimmer of hope this week, physicians said, came from the announcement Thursday that a U.S. government advisory panel endorsed widespread use of Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine. Shots could begin within days, depending on how quickly the Food and Drug Administration signs off, as expected, on the expert committee’s recommendation.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said officials expect 25,000 doses to be shipped between Monday and Wednesday, pending FDA sign off. The doses will be delivered to Mississippi hospitals for use by healthcare workers.

“We do anticipate that every hospital is going to get some doses to begin with, with the understanding that it's not going to be enough,” Byers said.

The state Health Department reported Friday that Mississippi had 2,327 new confirmed cases of the highly contagious virus as of Thursday evening. The department also reported 41 new deaths Friday with 32 of them happening between Nov. 8 and Thursday. The state has reported nearly 175,300 cases of the virus and 4,124 deaths from it since the start of the pandemic.


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