▶ Watch Video: COVID cases surge, unvaccinated hospital patients urge others to get shot

COVID infection rates are surging in every state, and experts say the upward trend is being fueled by the Delta variant – and by unvaccinated Americans. As of last week, more than 97 percent of people admitted to a hospital for COVID had not gotten the vaccine.

New projections show COVID cases nationwide will likely continue to rise over the next few months, peaking in mid-October. Daily deaths could more than triple from current levels, rising back up to around 850 a day.

At St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi – the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the country – the hospital’s director of medicine told “CBS This Morning” it’s getting scary as COVID cases surge. They’ve stopped allowing visitors (only Facetime visits now), and they’re on the verge of canceling non-emergency surgeries.

“CBS This Morning” lead national correspondent David Begnaud spoke to several patients at St. Dominic-Jackson who currently have COVID. None of them were fully-vaccinated.

William Ball is 52, and no longer infectious, but he’s too sick to go home. He had a heart attack in June and then developed COVID nine days later.

Begnaud asked his wife, Alicia, “How badly has COVID ravaged his body?”

“Extremely bad,” she replied. “He can’t even get up.”

“There will be people who watch this who don’t think the virus is serious,” said Begnaud.

“We didn’t either, at first,” Alicia said. “I’m not gonna lie. We had no idea.” She got vaccinated; he did not. They both got sick, but only he wound up like this.

William Ball was hospitalized with COVID in Jackson., Mississippi, after refusing to get the vaccine. 

CBS News

Vicki McKnight is 64. She said her doctor told her not to get the COVID vaccine because she’s allergic to the flu vaccine. She said a second doctor told her she needed to get it. But before she could, she said, she contracted COVID at a funeral.

She told Begnaud her husband got the vaccine, and also got COVID – but unlike her, he did not end up in the hospital.

Edward Clifton is 38. When he showed up at the hospital sick with COVID, he didn’t even know he had underlying conditions: kidney failure and diabetes. He, too, is unvaccinated.

“I want to tell everybody, please take the shot,” Clifton said.

Forty-five-year-old Larry Smoak is also a diabetic, and he had a heart attack four years ago. He said a week after getting his first Pfizer shot, he started showing symptoms for COVID.

“This virus is no joke,” Smoak said, “and if you want to feel really, really horrible, this is good way to do it, trust me.”

“Even people that got both doses, if they have underlying conditions, we don’t know if they got a full antibody response; their immune system may be weakened,” said Dr. Teri Oakes Dyess, director of hospital medicine at St. Dominic-Jackson. “It’s making us even come back and question should we be giving booster doses now to those with underlying medical conditions?”

Back in William Ball’s room, a doctor was called to determine if Ball  was having another heart attack. His wife, Alicia, spoke for him: “He will get the vaccine when he gets out of the hospital.”

Begnaud asked, “When he said, ‘I want that vaccine,’ tell me what you’re thinking.”

“He’s gotta get out of the hospital first,” she said, crying.

Dyess told “CBS This Morning” that 59 patients are hospitalized with COVID right now. Since March, the hospital has seen 300 COVID patients, only nine of them vaccinated.

In Mississippi, 89 percent of the people hospitalized for COVID are unvaccinated, and 91 percent of COVID deaths in the state were unvaccinated.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, told “CBS This Morning” he has sympathy for the unvaccinated: “They have just been fed this nonstop diet of misinformation about these vaccines – that somehow it was rushed, that somehow it’s dangerous. And the people who are spreading that misinformation, they usually have an alternate agenda on all of this. 

“So, what we need to do is give people the facts. The facts are, these vaccines are exceedingly safe and effective. They work at saving lives. And right now we’re only really seeing the unvaccinated get really sick and die from this. If you don’t want to get sick and die, there’s one way out of this: get vaccinated. 

“At this point, if you’re fully vaccinated, you’re really safe from anything serious. You might get a breakthrough infection, you might have a couple of days of not feeling great, but you’re not going end to up in the hospital, you’re not going end to up dying. That’s most important thing.” 

With the dramatic rise in cases, Jha said, “There’s only one way out of this, if we want to put the pandemic behind us: a lot more Americans have to get vaccinated.”

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