Field hospital opens in parking garage as Mississippi sees 'skyrocketing' crush of COVID patients

Mississippi officials are reopening a surge facility amidst rising COVID cases.

As Mississippi faces a "skyrocketing" surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations -- its highest increase on record -- health officials are sounding the alarm about a state hospital system on the brink of collapse.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center, in partnership with state officials, will reopen a surge facility Friday in the medical center's parking lot, with help from the federal government.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and respiratory therapists will be deployed to work at the field hospital for at least the next 14 days.

"Unfortunately, we were standing in a tent again. None of us wanted to come back to this point, but it's gotten to the point where we're just not able to care for the patients at UMMC, and in the state of Mississippi, that need the care with COVID," Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, said at a press conference on Thursday. "I think when you're seeing a field hospital at a major academic medical center, we're pretty much at a collapse-like system."

The arrival of federal assistance comes as the state faces an influx of coronavirus patients, with more than 1,500 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state, marking the highest number of patients receiving care since the onset of the pandemic.

The bed capacity is "extremely tight," said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. "Our ICUs today are full. Our patient beds are full."

Prior to the field hospital's opening, ABC News received an inside look as federal teams worked to set up the facility Thursday afternoon.

"I feel like we're beyond disaster. ... It really should be a scary time for everybody because it means that we feel like we have no capacity to deal with the things that we should be able to take care of," Jones told ABC News correspondent Elwyn Lopez. "It really needs to be a wake-up call for those people."

Although the facility will give the hospital a buffer to help manage the surge, Jones said, ultimately, "it's just a Band-Aid," or a temporary fix, for the problem.

The surge facility will give the hospital system a bit of relief, officials said, in managing both COVID-19 patients and other patients, as the number of hospitalizations continues to increase.

"We do not believe that we're at a point where we've hit the peak or we're turning the corner. In fact, we think we're still on that upward climb," Woodward said.

On Thursday, Mississippi reported more than 4,400 new cases, according to State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, almost 1,000 more than the state's previous record, he said, which will inevitably result in more hospitalizations and deaths.

"That means we're gonna have about 93 more deaths, just for today. It means we're gonna see over 300 new hospitalizations, just from the day. And that's on top of a system that is already overtaxed. Let us be very clear that the vast majority of cases, and hospitalizations, and deaths are unvaccinated," Dobbs continued.

Officials reported that they continue to see a rise in "relatively healthy" younger patients, the vast majority of them unvaccinated, in need of care. Similar to the uptick seen nationally, UMMC, which is the state's only children's hospital, has seen a concerning increase in pediatric patients.

"A large proportion, much larger than we've ever seen before, proportion of children being hospitalized, or hospitalized in the ICU, and these are not chronically ill children, these are healthy children that are being hospitalized," Jones said.

Despite a recent bump in the state's vaccination rate overall, Mississippi continues to struggle with its vaccine rollout, with just 35% of residents fully vaccinated -- the second-lowest inoculation rate in the country.

It is of critical importance that people get the information about vaccines from reputable sources, Dobbs stressed.

"We should not be here, y'all. This is not necessary," said Dobbs. "Too many people are getting information from wrong sources. ... These Facebook conspiratorial lists are going to spread and run, and have no accountability for the people who are dying, and we're here, picking up the mess."