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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mississippi’s health officer is making a dire prediction on the severity of the Delta variant.

“Ah, well I think it’s gonna be a 10 in couple of weeks. I really do think it’s gonna be the worst wave to date,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs.

His assessment comes as coronavirus cases soar. The state reported more than 3,000 new cases Thursday, surpassing the usual 2,000 a day. Hundreds of those cases are resulting in hospitalizations, with many people on life support and in ICU.

“But today our ICU beds are very limited,” said Jim Craig with Mississippi Health Protection. “The morning report from Mississippi Medcom, we only have eight beds available in the state and that is spread across four hospitals throughout the state.”

“We are approaching where we were last December with our overall case numbers,” said Dr. Paul Byers Mississippi’s epidemiologist.

It comes as school systems prepare to resume classes. Mississippi has issued a new directive for colleges and universities: vaccinations recommended for everyone, masks inside, physical distancing and contact tracing.

“It is possible that we will see more children who are hospitalized, and that is one of the unfortunate things,” Byers said. “That’s why we need to apply those measures across the board. Get vaccinated if you are eligible in the school setting.”

But the Delta variant has also led to a greater demand for the vaccine.
   
“We have seen almost three times folks getting vaccinated in a recent week or two than we have some weeks ago. So increasing vaccinations is going to be a phenomenal way for us to get out of this,” Dobbs said.

Health officials said as of their last update, there were four children in ICU in Mississippi due to COVID, with two on ventilators.