US hospitals are caring for the largest number of reported Covid-19 patients during the pandemic, according to federal government data, with the Omicron variant exacerbating pressures on already strained facilities.
The seven-day average in the United States reached 140,576 people hospitalized with confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, up from the previous high recorded during the increase last winter, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Health Department data. and American Human Services.
Hospitalization figures early in the pandemic are not comprehensive enough to show levels from early waves.
Statistics show that a new onslaught of patients is reaching many hospitals that have been grappling with staff shortages and heavy caseloads, forcing doctors, nurses and responders to make tougher decisions about who should get care.
“Someone somewhere is calling 911, and they’re waiting longer for an ambulance,” said Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer of Geisinger Health System Hospitals in Pennsylvania.
Hospitalizations also reflect the rapid pace of the current Covid-19 wave. Many people show up in hospitals for other reasons, some hospital and state data shows, and then they test positive for Covid-19.
Omicron, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated to be responsible for 98% of Covid-19 cases in the country, is likely to be responsible for the most recent hospitalizations, although government data does not separate out which variable is responsible.
Evidence indicates that the new highly contagious variant tends to cause milder disease and places fewer patients in intensive care than previous strains. Hospital officials and doctors say the volume of hospitalizations reflects the extent of the variable’s infection.
“It’s a numbers game,” said Michelle Prickett, MD, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
By last week, 11 hospitals in the larger Northwestern Medicine system had 16% more COVID-19 patients than the most recent peak, which hit in November 2020, and the rate is expected to grow, a spokeswoman said.
Intensive care patients at Dr Prikett Hospital still require treatment for severe Covid-19 cases. “We still see people struggling, we still see the lungs destroyed,” she said.
The hospitalization record comes as reported Covid-19 cases in nursing homes are up among staff, and close to a record high among residents.
The journal’s analysis of hospitalization data looked at confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases. Federal data showed that most reported hospital admissions were confirmed and averaged about 132,800 in the past seven days, which is in record territory.
The data does not distinguish between people who have been hospitalized with Covid-19, and those who have been hospitalized for other reasons but have tested positive for the virus.
Doctors say the large amount of Omicron circulating in communities contributes to the number of people who test positive after routine screening. It may also be a factor in the severity of their conditions.
Of the nearly 514 Covid-19 patients at Miami-area hospitals of the Jackson Health System on Monday, for example, an estimated 54% were admitted for reasons other than Covid-19, the system said. The rate was 27% at the height of the delta increase in August, the system said.
In New York state, numbers of new admissions from two weeks starting in mid-December show that patients who were admitted for other reasons but who also had Covid-19 accounted for 38% and 47% of the totals, up from less than a quarter over the same period. period a year ago.
At the same time, the rate of pediatric patients recently admitted for reasons other than Covid-19 who tested positive is lower than last year, when far fewer children were hospitalized, according to New York data.
The state health department advised not to rule out accidental or harmless Covid-19 infections found after people were hospitalized, saying the virus could be a contributing cause of the medical problem leading to hospitalization.
“People are being hospitalized right now, because we lack the staff and the ability to care for everyone, or they are too sick or too traumatized,” said Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety at the American Hospital Association. “They should be in the hospital.”
Hospitalizations were fueled by record case numbers. By Monday, the seven-day average of new cases in the United States topped 750,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, nearly three times the previous peak reached a year ago.
In the current wave, hospitals have already faced stress due to their heavy caseload, facing an increase in admissions while increasing numbers of nurses and critical staff are calling in sick with Covid-19.
Daniel Varga, chief medical officer of executive physicians there, said Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, the state’s largest system with 17 hospitals, recently had between 750 and 1,000 of its 35,000 employees sick with Covid-19.
“The challenge was just the sheer numbers of people that have been affected, both patients coming in but also the team members and doctors who are there to care for those people,” said Dr. Varga.
The good news, he said, is that today’s Covid-19 patients tend to be younger, less sick, and have shorter hospital stays than the patients Hackensack Meridian saw during the peak of his Covid-19 hospitalizations in the spring of 2020.
Omicron has not yet set a record for those in need of critical care. The seven-day average for confirmed and suspected intensive care cases reached 23,334 on Tuesday, about 5,900 from the record high a year ago.
However, staff shortages have caused some hospitals to close beds for new patients, while others have been unable to add capacity to keep up with demand, hospital officials and doctors say.
Patients wait for hospital beds in crowded emergency rooms in some facilities, while ambulances wait longer for patients to be discharged. Some hospitals postpone unnecessary surgeries.
About 17% of recently hospitalized Covid-19 patients at Mass General Brigham Hospitals in Massachusetts and New Hampshire were in intensive care beds, down from 23% during the peak of the increase about a year ago, said Ron Walls, president of the hospital system. Operating officer.
In April 2020, the figure was 35%, at its peak.
Dr. Walls said he believes the lower proportion of Covid-19 patients needing intensive care is likely a result of improved treatment and an increase in people vaccinated.
There are also signs that few patients need help from ventilators. Across the six Arizona hospitals in HonorHealth, for example, about 11% of Covid-19 patients this month required a ventilator, down from 15% in late December, said James Whitville, the physician and principal responsible for transforming the six hospital system.
Doctors said that patients who were not immunized could become seriously ill. Dr. Whiteville said less than 1% of recent Covid-19 patients at HonorHealth Hospitals in Arizona got a booster dose. About 85% of them are not fully vaccinated, he said.
Covid-19 deaths, a lagging indicator, recently averaged about 1,650 a day, according to Johns Hopkins University data, although disruptions in holiday reporting have made the latter trend difficult. The US exceeded 2,000 daily deaths in September while the number of deaths increased in the delta region, and 3,000 daily deaths early last year.
Anthony DeBarros contributed to this article.
write to Jon Camp at email@example.com and Melanie Evans at Melanie.Evans@wsj.com
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