The number of people hospitalized in the U.S. with Covid-19 climbed to 44,212 Tuesday, the highest number of patients since Aug. 15, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project.
The increasing number of patients poses a challenge for some hospitals struggling with staffing shortages and increased capacity. Rising hospitalizations in places such as Idaho, Utah, Montana and El Paso, Texas, and other indicators of the virus’s spread have prompted officials to implement stricter restrictions in recent days.
More than 1,000 people were hospitalized in New Jersey on Tuesday, the highest number since early July. Officials in Newark this week imposed new restrictions on bars and restaurants, as well as other businesses, as the testing positivity rate there climbs.
Hard-hit Wisconsin set another record Tuesday with 1,385 people with Covid-19 in hospitals, 339 of whom were being treated in intensive-care units, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Officials there opened a field hospital earlier this month to accommodate the growing number of patients.
Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator of the virus’ spread, epidemiologists say.
In Montana, the soaring numbers of Covid-19 cases have pushed the state’s largest hospitals to capacity as officials there grapple with uneven enforcement of the state’s mask mandate, said Jim Murphy, administrator of the state’s Communicable Disease and Laboratory Services Division.
“We have a limited number of tools to try to control the spread of this,” Mr. Murphy said. “Some were more aggressive than others and we do think that has made an impact.”
The state in mid-July required masks indoors at businesses, government offices and large outdoor activities without social distancing. The state last week went to court to enforce the July directives at five businesses where investigations found repeated violations, said Raph Graybill, chief legal council for the Montana governor.
Counties with younger populations have not seen the same rise in hospitalizations as those with older residents, who are at greater risk from the new virus, Mr. Murphy said. In Yellowstone County, home to Billings, Mont., the median age of Covid-19 cases in early October was nearly a decade older than Gallatin County, home to Montana State University, he said.
The Billings Clinic’s flagship hospital, located in Yellowstone County, is transferring patients to smaller, rural hospitals to create more room as Covid-19 hospitalizations increase.
Across Montana, 350 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 Tuesday, Covid Tracking Project data show. The seven-day average for hospitalizations is up more than 120% since the start of the month.
Hospitals are better positioned now to manage surges than earlier in the pandemic, said health-care workers and executives.
Utah’s latest Covid-19 surge is its largest in the pandemic, but doctors have the advantage of experience gained in prior waves as hospitalizations again climb, said Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease doctor with Intermountain Healthcare, the state’s largest hospital system.
Doctors employ new strategies to delay or avoid placing some critically ill patients on ventilators, he said. Some drugs to treat Covid-19 drugs are also now available, which was not the case earlier in the pandemic. Some patients may leave the hospital faster as a result.
Nonetheless, Intermountain added intensive-care beds at one hospital in early October and last week converted beds in an orthopedic hospital to take general patients, he said.