Federal data shows the seven-day average remained above 140,000, surpassing last winter’s peak
The number of hospitalizations since the beginning of the epidemic is not widespread enough to reflect the level of the initial wave.
The tallies show that a new onslaught of patients is coming to many hospitals that are grappling with staffing shortages and heavy caseloads, forcing doctors, nurses and respondents to make even tougher decisions about who to care for. needed.
“Someone is calling 911 somewhere, and they’re waiting a long time for an ambulance,” said Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer for Geisinger Health System hospitals in Pennsylvania.
Hospitalizations also reflect the alarming pace of the current COVID-19 wave. Many are showing up to hospitals for other reasons, some hospital and state figures show, and then testing positive for Covid-19.
Omicron, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates accounts for 98% of the country’s Covid-19 cases, is likely to be the most recent hospitalization, though government data doesn’t break out the attributable version.
Indications suggest that the highly transmissible new variant has milder disease and fewer patients are placed in intensive care than earlier strains. Hospital officials and doctors say the number of hospitalizations reflects the contagiousness of the variant.
“It’s a numbers game,” said Michelle Prickett, a pulmonary and critical-care specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
As of last week, 11 hospitals in the large Northwestern medicine system had 16% more COVID-19 patients than the previous peak, which were affected in November 2020, and the rate is expected to increase, a spokesman said.
Intensive care patients at Dr. Prickett’s hospital still need treatment for severe COVID-19 cases. “We’re still seeing people struggling, we’re still seeing lung destruction,” she said.
The record hospitalizations come as cases of Covid-19 in nursing homes came to a high level among staff and a near record among residents.
Journal analysis of hospitalization data looked at Covid-19 cases that were confirmed and suspected. Most of the hospitalizations reported, which averaged about 132,800 over the past seven days, were confirmed and are also in record territory, federal data show.
The data does not differentiate between people hospitalized for COVID-19 and those hospitalized for other reasons but test positive for the virus.
Doctors say the high amount of omicrons circulating in communities is contributing to the number of people testing positive after routine screening. It may also be a factor in the severity of their conditions.
Of the nearly record 514 Covid-19 patients at Jackson Health System’s Miami-area hospitals Monday, an estimated 54% were admitted primarily for non-Covid reasons, the system said. The system said the rate was 27% at the peak of the delta surge in August.
In New York State, the new admissions count for two weeks beginning in mid-December shows patients admitted for other reasons, but those who also had COVID-19, accounted for 38% and 47% of the total, during the same period. Less than a quarter of a year ago.
At the same time, the rate of pediatric patients recently admitted for non-Covid-19 reasons who test positive is lower than a year ago, when far fewer children were hospitalized, New York data shows.
The state health department advised against discounting people as accidental or harmless Covid-19 infections found after hospitalization, saying the virus may be a significant cause of medical problem for hospitalization. could.
Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety, said, “People who are hospitalized right now because we have such a shortage of staff and ability to care for everyone, they are very ill or they are in a significant stroke. ” Policy of the American Hospital Association. “He needs to stay in the hospital.”
Record case numbers have led to hospitalizations. According to Johns Hopkins University, as of Monday, the US seven-day average for new cases was above 750,000, up from a year earlier.
In the current wave, hospitals have faced a surge in admissions under pressure from already heavy caseloads, while an increasing number of nurses and other critical staff are ill with COVID-19.
Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, the state’s largest system with 17 hospitals, recently sickened between 750 and 1,000 of its 35,000 employees with Covid-19, said Daniel Varga, chief physician executive there.
“The challenge has just been the number of people affected, both the patients who are coming in, but also the team members and the doctors who are there to look after these people,” Dr Varga said.
Hospital officials and doctors say that due to shortage of staff, some hospitals have closed beds for new patients, while others have not been able to meet the demand.
In some facilities’ overcrowded emergency rooms, patients wait for hospital beds, while ambulances wait longer to bring patients back. Some hospitals are closing non-urgent surgeries.
Omicron hasn’t set a record for people who need critical care. The seven-day average for confirmed and suspected adult ICU cases reached 23,334 on Tuesday, up from a record nearly 5,900 a year ago.
Ron Walls, the head of the hospital system, said recently that about 17% of hospitalized Covid-19 patients at hospitals in Mass General Brigham, Massachusetts and New Hampshire were in intensive care beds, down from 23%. operating officer.
In April 2020, the figure was 35%, which was at its peak.
Dr. Walls said he believes the declining share of COVID-19 patients needing intensive care is probably the result of better treatment and an increase in people who are vaccinated.
There are also indications that fewer patients need help from ventilators. At HonorHealth’s six Arizona hospitals, for example, about 11% of COVID-19 patients need ventilators this month, down from 15% at the end of December, said James Whitfil, a physician and chief transformation officer of the six-hospital system. said.
Yet unvaccinated patients can become seriously ill, the physicians said. Less than 1% of Covid-19 patients recently received a booster shot at HonorHealth’s Arizona hospitals, Dr. Whitfil said. About 85% are completely illiterate, he said.
Covid-19 deaths, a backward indicator, recently averaged around 1,650 a day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, although holiday-reporting disruptions have made the recent trend difficult to see. The US topped 2,000 deaths a day in September and 3,000 daily deaths early last year during the Delta boom.
—Anthony Debros contributed to this article.