- The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the United States has skyrocketed in the past week.
- Experts say hospitals are quickly filling up and there are critical staffing shortages at these facilities.
- They also warn that the hospitalizations may continue to rise due to the proliferation of the Delta variant.
The Delta variant is driving the current surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the United States, especially in hot spots such as Florida, Texas, and Louisiana.
And as with the first outbreak of COVID-19 last year, some hospitals are fast approaching their capacity to provide care for people with the most serious illnesses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), overall COVID-19 cases nationwide rose about 18 percent last week compared with the previous week.
The agency reports that more than 95 percent of the new COVID-19 cases in the United States involve the highly infectious Delta variant.
In the past week, more than 3,200 people died from COVID-19, with per capita death rates being the highest in Louisiana, Nevada, Missouri, and Arkansas.
Overall, U.S. hospitals are taking care of more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients. That’s an increase of 10,000 in less than a week. There are more than 12,000 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida and more than 9,000 in Texas.
Hospitals filling up
The amount of strain this is causing on healthcare systems varies greatly by state and even from community to community.
According to the COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, the use of hospital beds by COVID-19 patients ranges from a high of 70 percent in rural Grady County, Georgia, to 0.34 percent in Suffolk County (Boston), Massachusetts.
Likewise, in counties such as Bacon, Georgia, Phelps, Missouri, Brown, Texas, and Baldwin, Alabama, more than 90 percent of all ICU beds are filled by people with COVID-19.
In addition, ICU beds are filled to or exceed capacity in at least 90 counties in the United States. Among ICU patients, more than 3,000 are currently on ventilators.
What the future may hold
If all this isn’t overwhelming enough, a data analysis by Pinar Karaca Mandic, PhD, suggests that the worst of the Delta variant may be yet to come.
Mandic, a healthcare risk management expert and director of the Medical Industry Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota, compared the most recent per capita COVID-19 cases with a week just prior to the emergence of the Delta variant.
At the time, vaccination rates were roughly the same: 48 percent as of June 30 versus 50 percent now.
Mandic concluded that the Delta variant may be up to eight times more infectious than prior strains of the virus.
“I’m most concerned about the spike in ICU numbers,” said Mandic.
She pointed out that 60 million people in the United States are now living in counties where ICU use is 90 percent or higher — a 49 percent increase from just a week ago.
Can hospitals handle the demand?
John Maaske, founder and chief executive officer of the nationwide healthcare staffing company Triage, told Healthline that he’s concerned about the ability to meet the demand for patient care if COVID-19 cases start rising in other parts of the country in addition to the current hot spots.
“We are seeing very high demand — even higher than what we saw at the tail end of last year and earlier this year,” said Maaske. “Demand is up 30 percent over what it was last year, and last year it was ridiculously high.”
Maaske cited several reasons for the surge in demand.
They include the Delta-driven rise in cases, backlogged elective surgery cases postponed during the previous COVID-19 spike, new requirements that healthcare workers be vaccinated, and unusually high caseloads of non-COVID-19 respiratory illnesses.
“The demand for respiratory care therapists has definitely increased in the last 6 weeks,” Maaske said.
Some states have reduced or even eliminated regular reporting of COVID-19 cases, according to Poppy MacDonald, president at USAFacts.org, which compiles health and other data for use by the public.
MacDonald noted that hospitals are legally required to report information on COVID-19 admissions and deaths to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Hospitalization data certainly shines a light on whether or not your local hospital has the ability to care for you or your loved one if you contract COVID” and helps inform such decisions about whether to wear a mask or get vaccinated, said MacDonald.
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