COVID Is So Deadly in This State, It's Like "Natural Selection," Doctor Says

Healthcare workers in this low-resourced area are struggling to keep up with coronavirus.

Throughout the first few months after the pandemic hit the shores of the U.S., a few states (including New York and New Jersey) were taking the brunt of new infections. But in recent weeks, COVID has been spiking all over the country, hitting the west and the south particularly hard. The coronavirus is highlighting issues of healthcare inequity, as counties with fewer resources are struggling to deal with the influx of patients. In an interview with NBC News, doctors in Indianola, Mississippi—in the Mississippi Delta—detailed the way in which COVID is overwhelming the community. One epidemiologist said that coronavirus is so deadly, it's starting to resemble "natural selection."

Among the healthcare workers featured in the article are married couple Chad Dowell, DO, and Kelsey Dowell, DO, who work in South Sunflower County Hospital in Indianola, a town with a population of about 10,000 that the publication describes as "impoverished." In late May, every type of business across the state was allowed to reopen, as Gov. Tate Reeves lifted lockdown orders. The Dowells told NBC that very few people adhered to mask wearing and social distancing, and that many residents expressed skepticism about the existence of the virus on social media. Meanwhile, per data collected by The New York Times, Mississippi recorded 1,230 new cases on July 16 alone, bringing their total to nearly 40,000. At least 1,308 people have died.

Indianola Mississippi on map

On July 13, Reeves issued a mask mandate for 13 counties in Mississippi, including Sunflower County, as reported by a local ABC outlet. But healthcare workers said that the hospitals were already overwhelmed by that point. Both Dowells recounted stories of desperately trying to find beds at neighboring hospitals for COVID patients that the South Sunflower County ICU could not accept; and the hospital reportedly only has one nurse on for 11 COVID patients some nights, partially due to nurses themselves becoming sick. The distribution should be one nurse for every two ICU patients.

Satwinder Singh, MD, who is the only epidemiologist in the entire Mississippi Delta, told NBC News that there is a serious testing lag in the area, resulting in healthcare workers who suspect that they're sick being unable to confirm their diagnoses. He also fears that there are many, many asymptomatic people who haven't been tested and are unknowingly spreading the disease. Singh says the total number of people infected is "maybe 10 times more than what we are counting now."

NBC News notes that, in the Delta, there are high rates of health conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists as putting individuals at higher risk for a severe case of coronavirus, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. That, plus their relative lack of staffing and resources and the community resistance to taking precautionary measures, means that the virus is only going to become deadlier, Singh said. And the most vulnerable populations will be the most affected.

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He cautioned that Mississippi may achieve "herd immunity" in the deadliest way possible. "Only the strong—or the people who take it seriously—will survive, and many, many others will perish," Singh said. "I hate to say it, but we're almost at natural selection at this point."

And for more from experts, Everyone Infected With COVID Has This One Thing in Common, Fauci Says.

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