As the highly infectious Delta variant sends COVID-19 cases surging across the U.S., many hospitals are being stretched to their limits once again.
At Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, staff are worried the current surge could ultimately be even worse than the COVID crisis it grappled with in 2020.
Hospital chief Erik Frederick told Reuters the majority of new cases have been unvaccinated, younger - and much sicker - and include pregnant women.
"And that was very different to what we saw last year. Our utilization of ventilators and other respiratory support equipment, much higher than last year. On average last year, we'd have probably about 25 to 30 percent of our COVID patients would be in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). About 40 to 50 percent of those patients would be related. We've had days in the last few weeks for 100 percent of our ICU patients were ventilated."
Cases in the U.S. have surged an average of 53% over the past week, according to the CDC, and are predominantly located in areas with lower vaccination rates.
Frederick says he's encouraged by a recent rise in vaccinations across traditionally conservative areas in his state.
But he worries that for some communities, it might be too late.
"We've been telling that story for two months in southwest Missouri. And it kind of breaks your heart a little bit to say that 'I wish people would have paid attention and listened'. And there are a lot of communities that did, but there's some that aren't. And now you're starting to see the effect of this Delta variant in more and more communities and they need to brace themselves."
The CDC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are currently reviewing data on the immunity of vaccinated people to determine if additional booster shots of the vaccine may be needed for further protection.