August 26, 2021

'Chaotic': What it's like in hospitals overwhelmed by the delta surge

Daily Briefing

    In states across America, Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are hitting record highs, with some states approaching or hitting ICU capacity limits.

    How much worse will the 'delta surge' get? Watch these 7 factors.

    Covid-19 hospitalizations surge in some states

    On average, the United States is seeing over 150,000 new coronavirus cases a day, a 22% increase during the past two weeks, Axios reports. In total, more than 100,000 Americans have been hospitalized with Covid-19, according to HHS data, the first time the number has risen above that benchmark since January.

    On Tuesday, 100,517 Americans were hospitalized with Covid-19, and by Wednesday, that number dropped to 100,059. That's up from 53,529 hospitalizations on Aug. 1, Axios reports.

    In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced that the surge in Covid-19 hospitalizations has forced some hospitals to start converting space to treat ICU patients. And in northern Texas, some hospitals have said they may start prioritizing vaccinated patients over unvaccinated patients.

    On Tuesday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that 1,000 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized in the state, a "terrifying milestone" that represented a record high.

    And in Hawaii, Gov. David Ige (D) asked tourists to avoid traveling to the state while it deals with a record number of Covid-19 cases, as hospitalizations for Covid-19 have doubled in the past two weeks.

    Meanwhile, surges in Covid-19 hospitalizations are filling up ICUs across the country, with more than 77% of ICU beds in use throughout the United States, Axios reports.

    In Florida, 94% of ICU beds are full, while Idaho, Nevada, and Illinois are closing in on ICU capacity limits.

    Meanwhile, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced Tuesday there are no more ICU beds available in the state for Covid-19 patients. On Monday, the state had 22 ICU beds available, but only a fraction of them were able to handle Covid-19 patients, the Associated Press reports.

    Hutchinson also announced on Monday that the number of Covid-19 patients on ventilators in the state has reached a record high. According to the state's Department of Health, the number of Covid-19 patients on ventilators rose to 349, surpassing the previous high the state reached on Saturday.

    According to Nick VinZant, a senior research analyst at QuoteWizard, an insurance comparison company, the shortage of ICU beds is a result of increased demand rather than low supply.

    "It's specifically because that's where Covid is really hitting," he said. "We have a health care system that is being pushed to the limits and staff [who] are really struggling to keep up."

    'I see a lot of sadness'

    At Willis-Knighton Medical Center in Shreveport, La., the number of Covid-19 patients has surged to 138, 120 of whom are unvaccinated, the AP reports.

    Beth Springer, nursing coordinator for the hospital, said that a month ago, the hallways in the ICU were clear. Now, the pandemic seems worse than ever.

    "I see a lot of sadness," she said. "I see a lot that I never thought I'd see in my career."

    Early on in the pandemic, Willis-Knighton hung a paper angel on the wall when a patient died of Covid-19, but as Covid-19 deaths surged, the hospital instead replaced the angels with colorful paper streamers in the hallway.

    "We're looking for anything we can do for the staff to find some joy in their every day because there's very little in it right now," Denise Jones, CNO at Willis-Knighton, said.

    In July, the number of Covid-19 patients at the hospital was in the single digits, but now, there are more than 100.

    "It's more chaotic," Springer said. "It's just the rate at which it's grown and spread is way faster."

    Jones said she sees nurses suffering from burnout come to her office every day.

    "Imagine the pressure of knowing I don't know if I can do this another day, another hour, but if I don't show up tomorrow there's nobody there to care for this patient. There's nobody here to hold this phone and let them talk to their family the last time before we put a tube in them," she said. "I feel very powerless and defeated as a leader that I can't help them more."

    Cheryl Thomas, an ICU charge nurse at the hospital, said she feels it's her duty to comfort patients who are near death.

    "I'm not ever going to let someone die alone," she said.

    Thomas added that this work is difficult to do every day, but that's why she decided to be a nurse. "Because I do care," she said. (Falconer, Axios, 8/25; Reed, Axios, 8/25; Baker, Axios, 8/26; Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 8/25; Morgan, Associated Press, 8/24; Gonzalez, Axios, 8/24; AP/Modern Healthcare, 8/24)

    How much worse will the 'delta surge' get? Watch these 7 factors.

    looking aheadJust how worried should you be about the delta variant? Advisory Board's Yulan Egan takes a deep dive into this question, detailing seven factors you should watch closely (and two to ignore) to determine just how deadly and disruptive the variant will prove to be.

    Read the latest take

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