Hospitals buckle under a wave of Covid cases
Hospitals across the U.S. warned they were facing critical shortages of staff and beds this week, as record numbers of Covid-19 patients began to overwhelm intensive care units and exhausted health-care workers braced for a post-Thanksgiving surge of cases. The total number of Americans in hospitals with the virus has hit new highs every day since Nov. 11, when hospitalizations first topped the April peak. More than 85,000 people are now hospitalized with the disease; about 180,000 new infections and 1,000 Covid deaths are being reported every day. In Utah, where ICUs are at 87 percent of capacity, officials warned they might soon have to ration care; in parts of Minnesota, open ICU beds were down to single digits; and in El Paso, Texas, the military deployed medics to help swamped hospitals. With many health-care workers quarantining because of infection or exposure to Covid-19, about one-fifth of hospitals are now short-staffed. “We can’t manufacture doctors and nurses in the same way we can manufacture ventilators,” said Eric Toner, an ER doctor in Baltimore.
The Centers for Disease Control urged Americans to stay home and not visit family for Thanksgiving, to stem the spread of the disease, but many ignored the advice. More than 3 million people were screened at U.S. airports during the weekend before the holiday, the highest passenger volume since mid-March. In the latest in a series of encouraging announcements from vaccine developers, AstraZeneca and Oxford University reported this week that their low-cost Covid shot appeared to be up to 90 percent effective. We’re “another step closer to the time when we can use vaccines to bring an end to the devastation caused by” the virus, said Oxford Prof. Sarah Gilbert.
What the editorials said
Hospitals can’t keep up with this “brutal surge,” said WashingtonExaminer.com. The percentage of Covid tests coming back positive is now above 9 percent for the first time since May. But unlike the first wave of the pandemic, when the disease rocketed in select places such as New York City, coronavirus cases are now soaring almost everywhere. That means there’s no slack in the health-care system, and nurses and doctors can’t be shifted from low-case areas to new “trouble spots.”“The vaccines are coming,” said The Washington Post. At least three shots now appear to be effective at blocking the disease, and the federal government has signed deals for hundreds of millions of doses, which should start arriving in December. But “supplies will be limited at first,” and vaccines will be dispensed in waves: first to front-line health-care workers, then to the elderly and people with high-risk conditions, and so on. It will take months to get vaccines out to the general population, so we all need to keep wearing masks and practicing social distancing in the meantime. “Fasten your seat belts, and be patient.”
What the columnists said
“America’s health-care workers are exhausted,” said Caitlin Owens in Axios.com, and the sickest Covid patients “aren’t receiving the kind of care that could make the difference between living and dying.” Rural hospitals in Kansas and Missouri, many of which lack ICUs, are referring critically ill patients to city hospitals that are “starting to crack under the increased caseload.” At the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, which is delaying two surgeries a day on average, patients from Idaho are no longer being accepted.
Vaccines could get us out of this crisis surprisingly quickly, said Justin Fox in Bloomberg.com. If these shots are anything close to 95 percent effective, which seems possible, they could offer a path to herd immunity. By next spring, about 30 percent of Americans will have had the virus and so be unlikely to get reinfected. If the U.S. can immunize an additional 145 million Americans, we’d reach the 70 percent threshold believed to be needed for herd immunity. “Those are some big ifs,” but the end to this pandemic could be in sight.
With the U.S. Covid death toll now topping 260,000, said James Fallows in TheAtlantic.com, the man in charge “of guiding the national response does nothing.” The legal term for that is “negligent homicide.” President Trump has abandoned any pretense of pandemic leadership since his election defeat. He golfs and rage tweets while “mortuaries fill up and medical workers serve endless shifts, knowing that they may be next to succumb.” The fatality rate keeps climbing, “and our national leader looks the other way.” ■