With coronavirus hospitalizations surging in much of the United States and daily cases hitting all-time highs, the pandemic is putting new strain on local health systems, prompting plans for makeshift medical centers and new talk of rationing care.
In Texas, authorities are scrambling to shore up resources in El Paso, where intensive care units hit full capacity on Saturday and where covid-19 hospitalizations have nearly quadrupled to almost 800 in less than three weeks. In Utah, the state hospital association warned that if current trends hold, it will soon have to ask the governor to invoke “crisis standards of care” — a triage system that, for example, favors younger patients.
“It’s an extreme situation, because this means that all your contingency planning has been exhausted,” said Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association.
“I think all of us agree that the situation we have right now is unsustainable,” said Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety.
New reported infections nationwide surpassed 80,000 for the first time ever Friday and again Saturday, as hospitalizations push past 40,000 and daily death tolls begin to climb. This new wave of infections, expected to intensify as winter draws closer, is spread wider than the spring surge that devastated East Coast states and the summer wave that slammed the South and the Southwest. And it comes as some Republican leaders are leery of renewed shutdowns, as Americans grow wearier of restrictions and as the Thanksgiving travel season threatens to supercharge the virus’s spread.
“We are set up for just a perfect storm — a conflagration,” said Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine professor at Brown University. “Right now, you can talk about there being lots of little burning fires across the country. And then Thanksgiving will be the wind that will whip this fire up into an absolute human disaster for our country.”
As holidays near, the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, putting families in a quandary about celebrations and travel
This past week brought the highest number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic started. Dozens of states have seen a seven-day average of more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people, with more than 700 per 100,000 in North Dakota — population-wise, that would be the equivalent of Florida reporting more than 20,000 cases during the same time period.
Speaking Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows suggested that the spread of the virus is a foregone conclusion: “We’re not going to control the pandemic,” Meadows said. “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation.”
But public health officials say every effort to minimize the virus’s damage matters — and could mean all the difference for hospitals on track to become badly overwhelmed.
In Utah, for instance, authorities are hoping that a recent expansion of mask mandates