The highly contagious delta variant is rapidly spreading in the United States. Since Friday, U.S. hospital admissions have increased by 36% and deaths by 26% respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hospitals are reporting record-breaking or close to-record patient numbers. Even for those who are not, the current round of the pandemic proves to be more difficult in some ways, according to hospital and health officials. It can be difficult to find nurses who are willing to travel, as staff members are exhausted.
President of the American College of Emergency Physicians, Dr. Mark Rosenberg said that "I think of it as war" and asked how long he could stay on the frontline. "And how many times would you like to return for another tour? You will eventually stop wanting to do it.
According to health care leaders, hospitals were also busy before the surge started, handling a backlog in cancer screenings, operations, and other procedures.
"Eventually, you have to pay your piper," Dr. James Lawler of Global Center for Health Security at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha said.
Some hospitals are now afraid that they may have to delay non-COVID-19 treatment again, and could risk potential health consequences for their patients.
Dr. Laura Makaroff is the senior vice president of prevention and early detection at the American Cancer Society. She said that cancer screenings fell during the epidemic and have not returned to their normal levels in many areas. She cautioned that delays in screenings could lead to cancers being discovered in advanced stages.
The number of COVID-19-related deaths and newly diagnosed infections in the United States is still significantly lower than it was last winter. However, all 50 states are reporting an increase in cases for the first time in a decade. The nation's vaccination drive is slowing down, with 48% of the population protected.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC, warned that the U.S. outbreak is becoming "a pandemic among the unvaccinated" as nearly all hospitalizations and deaths in the country are from people who have not been immunized.
Springfield, Missouri is one of the most overburdened areas in the country. Public health officials pleaded with the state to convert a hotel, dormitory or other large space for COVID-19 patients. This would allow the two city hospitals to focus on the most seriously ill.
Mercy Springfield and Cox South saw a sevenfold rise in coronavirus cases since May. Mercy treated pandemic-high patients, while Cox South is expected to surpass its own record next week.
UF Health Jacksonville in Florida is considering setting up tents on the lot in order to alleviate the overflow caused by the double-digit increase in COVID-19 patients to 77 in the last few weeks. Chad Neilsen (director of infection prevention) said that the hospital plans to surpass the January high of 125 in-patients with COVID-19 within the next few weeks.
The hospital had started a campaign to return patients who were unable to care during the pandemic. Neilsen stated that the hospital is now considering cancelling procedures.
He said, "To be telling someone that we need to delay your hip surgery, or your procedure due to too many COVID patient who are largely non-vaccinated,' it's just not what we signed up for in health care."
Augusta University Medical Center in Georgia is "busting at all seams" to handle medical procedures that were delayed by the pandemic. It also deals with an increase in respiratory illnesses that typically hit in wintertime.
From a low of just one to two patients per day, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been increasing steadily to eight or ten patients. Coule stated that although the numbers are still far below the January peak of 145, he is closely monitoring the situation.
He said that he feels like the hospital is in a better place than it was before, and that staff are safer due to vaccinations. "In other words, it worries us if we have the need to defer routine care once again.
Los Angeles County, California will require indoor masks for all people, even those who have been vaccinated. The number of COVID-19 cases has increased by more than 400 in the Kaiser Permanente California hospitals over the past three weeks.
Dr. Stephen Parodi was a key figure in the surge planning for Kaiser Permanente's hospitals. He said that he believes they can handle it, noting that the total is still below 20% of January's peak.
He said that the hospitals were already crowded with patients with more serious illnesses who showed up to the emergency rooms than if they had been caught earlier.
He said, "At some point illness doesn't wait to us." "It is simply unacceptable to be able to delay additional care after you have been deferred for at least a year or a year and a quarter.