coronavirus pandemic is entering its most dire stage yet, new federal data shows that more than a third of Americans now live in areas where hospitals are critically short of intensive care beds.
Hospitals serving more than 100 million Americans had fewer than 15 percent of intensive care beds still available as of last week, a New York Times analysis of government data on hospitals finds.
Things are even more troubling across much of the Midwest, South and Southwest, where intensive care beds are either completely full or fewer than 5 percent of beds are available. Under that scenario, experts warn that caring for the sickest patients may be difficult or impossible.
«There’s only so much our frontline care can offer, particularly when you get to these really rural counties which are being hit hard by the pandemic right now,» Beth Blauer, director of the Centers for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told the Times. «This disease progresses very quickly and can get very ugly very fast. When you don’t have that capacity, that means people will die.»
Hospitalization figures collected by the COVID Tracking Project show that the number of people hospitalized with the virus nationwide has doubled since the beginning of November, the Times reported.
The new hospital data shows that some areas — like Amarillo, Texas, Coral Gables, Fla., and Troy, Mich. — are seeing rates of serious illness that approach the levels seen in New York City during the worst weeks of the spring, the Times said.
In California, more than 10,000 COVID-19 patients are now hospitalized, more than 70 percent above levels from just two weeks ago, and the effects of Thanksgiving travel may not have been fully felt yet, the Times reported.
While survival rates have improved as doctors have learned which treatments work, hospital shortages raise the possibility of increasing mortality rates once again if patients don’t get the level of care they need.
Thomas Tsai, an assistant professor of health policy at Harvard University, told the Times that healthcare workers must make tough decisions about who receives care when resources are critically tight.
Already, there is some evidence that is happening, Tsai said. For the last several weeks, the rate at which COVID-19 patients are going to hospitals has started decreasing. «That suggests that there’s some rationing and stricter triage criteria about who gets admitted as hospitals remain full,» he explained.
So far, policymakers have relied heavily on data on testing and cases to make policy decisions, but the new, detailed data on hospitals prompt a rapid shift in what leaders consider as they make decisions, Blauer told the Times.
«If you’re living in a place where there’s no ICU bed for 100 miles, you have to be incredibly careful about the social interaction that you allow the community to take,» she explained.
Pfizer’s COVID Vaccine Starts to Work Shortly After First Dose
New data released Tuesday suggests that Pfizer’s two-dose coronavirus vaccine begins to work well protecting recipients against COVID-19 within 10 days of the first dose. It also appeared to work well regardless of the trial volunteers’ age, sex or weight.
The data was published on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website in advance of a meeting of its vaccine advisory committee on Thursday, the Times reported.
Last month, Pfizer presented data showing a 95% effectiveness of the vaccine after two doses, but the new data suggests protection arrives even after the first dose.
But will Americans who need the shot get one? In related news, Pfizer has already told the Trump administration it can’t deliver additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine until summer because other countries have snatched up most of the company’s supply.
That means the U.S. government may not be able to ramp up its vaccination campaign as quickly as it had hoped. Right now, 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been purchased, but whether most Americans can get the vaccine by late spring or early summer is no longer certain, the Washington Post reported.
Trump administration officials denied there would be availability issues in the second quarter, noting that other coronavirus vaccines are moving through the pipeline.