Hospitals and Healthcare Workers Brace for Influx of COVID Patients

Coronavirus infections, while at record-high levels, have decreased during the past week, unlike hospitalizations, which are still surging. Public health experts expect it to get a lot worse due to the Thanksgiving holiday travel.

3 minute read

December 3, 2020, 12:00 PM PST

By Irvin Dawid


Ambulance

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Public health experts are expecting to see a surge of new coronavirus infections followed by an additional surge of hospitalizations resulting from Thanksgiving travel that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had advised against doing. 

"The nation averaged just over 161,000 coronavirus cases during the past week, an increase of 2 percent from the average two weeks earlier," according to The New York Times coronavirus tracker on December 2, although the Thanksgiving holiday likely led to some underreporting. During the last week, daily new cases declined by 8%, resulting in a case incidence rate in the U.S overall of 50 per 100,000 residents based on a 7-day rolling average, according to The Washington Post tracker.

Of course, the incidence varies by geography, with South Dakota averaging 100 new cases per 100k, the nation's highest, and Hawaii the lowest at 6 per 100k. Seven states, led by Tennessee, saw a double-digit percentage increase in daily cases in the last week, while 26 states, led by North Dakota, saw a double-digit percentage decline during the last seven days, according to the Post's tracker.

Hospitalizations are at an all-time high, almost 99,000 on the first day of December, according to the Times tracker, an increase of 32% from two weeks ago. The previous peaks of just below 60,000 occurred in mid-April during the spring surge in the Northeast and late July during the summer surge in the South and West, shown on this graph by the COVID Tracking Project.

Hospitalizations are surging by at least 10% in 29 states, led by Delaware with a 49% increase from last week, according to the Post tracker on Dec. 2. Only Iowa saw a decrease greater than 10%. 

Northeast hospitals hit hard

"Hospitalizations in the most densely populated region of the U.S. are up 63% in the past 14 days to 14,071, the most alarming momentum in the nation, according to Covid Tracking Project data," report Jonathan Levin and Keshia Clukey for Bloomberg News on Dec. 1 (source article).

Patients hospitalized with Covid-19 have increased by 79% and 80% each in New York and Pennsylvania, respectively, in the past two weeks and even more in the less-populous states of Maine and New Hampshire. Per capita hospitalizations are still much higher in many Midwest states, where they have just recently begun to decline from all-time highs.

Levin and Clukey note that "the Thanksgiving holiday led to a temporary distortion in case and death statistics" in the form of underreporting, which has led to more of a focus on hospitalization data.

According to the Covid Act Now database on Dec. 2, three states: Oklahoma, New Jersey, and New Mexico have used 100% of their intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, with Tennessee, South Dakota, and Georgia not far behind.

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