U.S. sets new record for coronavirus hospitalizations (updated)

coronavirus hospitalizations new record united states
Photo via Rusty Clark/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The United States set a record for coronavirus hospitalizations on Nov. 10, surpassing the 60,000 mark for the first time. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 61,964 people are currently hospitalized in the U.S. with coronavirus-related issues. By comparison, only 29,948 people were hospitalized on Oct. 4, indicating a sharp and concerning upward trend.

By Nov. 17, that record had been shattered with 73,000 people in the hospital with COVID-19.

Death counts are on the rise as well, and since those numbers have lagged behind hospitalizations during the pandemic, that number could rise in the coming days. Especially since the U.S. keeps topping the 100,000 mark for new daily coronavirus cases.

“The virus is spreading in a largely uncontrolled fashion across the vast majority of the country,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told the AP.

This is the third peak in hospitalizations since the pandemic started. The U.S. approached 60,000 hospitalizations in April and again in July.

The numbers are particularly concerning in the Midwest and West, with several states moving toward reaching hospital capacity. According to NPR, 18 states have at least 10% of its patients admitted with coronavirus-related issues with both North Dakota and South Dakota topping 20%.

“We have legitimate reason to be very, very concerned about our health system at a national level,” said Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University who studies hospital surge capacity, in NPR’s review of the new numbers.

That article explained that while there’s not a fixed threshold applying to all hospitals, once coronavirus hospitalizations pass the 10% count, that signals an added risk of overwhelming the healthcare system.

“We start to pay attention above 5%,” Sauer said. “Above that, 10% is where we think, ‘Perhaps we have to start enacting surge strategies and crisis standards of care in some places.'”

The article also noted while there’s no “magic number” to indicate when a healthcare system may be overwhelmed, hospitals typically run close to capacity, even when there’s not a pandemic affecting patient numbers.

“Even a 10% increase can be quite dangerous,” said Eugene Litvak, CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Optimization, a hospital advisory group. He asked, in light of such a surge, “What are your options? You can not admit ambulances and patients with non-COVID medical needs, or you have to cancel your elective surgeries.”

In the spring of 2020, some states ordered a pause on elective surgeries so that hospitals could accommodate coronavirus hospitalizations. Litvak noted those decisions can hurt patient care, and they can even lead hospitals to lose elective surgery revenue and to lay off staff.

Sources: COVID Tracking Project, Associated Press, NPR

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