Speed Reads

the coronavirus crisis

U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations have plateaued, but ICUs are full and struggling in much of the country

After a post-holiday surge, new COVID-19 cases are starting to decline across the U.S. But hospital intensive care units, where the people hit hardest by COVID-19 end up, are "running out of space and supplies and competing to hire temporary traveling nurses at soaring rates," especially in the South and West, The Associated Press reports, citing federal data. "Since November, the share of U.S. hospitals nearing the breaking point has doubled. More than 40 percent of Americans now live in areas running out of ICU space, with only 15 percent of beds still available."

The U.S. surpassed 25 million total recorded COVID-19 cases on Sunday — the number was 25.1 million as of Monday morning — and 419,215 Americans have died of the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University's count. "Encouragingly, hospitalizations appear to have either plateaued or are trending downward across all regions," AP reports. "It's unclear whether the easing will continue with more contagious versions of the virus arising and snags in the rollout of vaccines."

Along with full ICUs, hospitals are running out of supplies and trying to manage nursing shortages, after nearly a year of grueling, draining working trying to keep COVID-19 patients alive and recovering. "You can't push great people forever. Right? I mean, it just isn't possible," said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist, which recently paid staff nurses $8,000 retention bonuses. Agencies pay "absolutely ridiculous sums of money" for traveling nurses, he tells AP. "They go to California, which is in the midst of a surge, but they poach some ICU nurses there, send them to Texas, where they charge inordinate amounts to fill in gaps in Texas, many of which are created because nurses in Texas went to Florida or back to California."