As the pandemic surges, newly released data from the US Department of Health and Human Services show at least 200 hospitals across the country were at full capacity last week. One third of all hospitals have 90-100% occupancy of ICU beds, and coronavirus patients now take up almost 50% of all staffed ICU beds in the US--up from 37% in the first week of November. Hospitalizations in the US reached a record high of 107,248 on Thursday, Dec 10, according to the Covid Tracking Project. This is the post-Thanksgiving surge we were warned would happen.
Across the country, more hospitals are running out of health care workers and/or ICU beds, forcing some doctors to send patients out of state. This does not just affect COVID-19 patients, it affects anyone who needs hospital care. When hospitals run out of beds and staff, all patients are turned away, making difficulty in obtaining hospital care very egalitarian.
Thursday was encouraging as an FDA committee recommended that a COVID-19 vaccine be authorized for emergency use. But it was also a day of loss. The single-day death toll from COVID-19 reached a record high of 3,124 according to Johns Hopkins University. That's more deaths than suffered in the 9/11 attacks. We are now suffering the equivalent of a 9/11 attack and more every day, and it is getting worse.
A composite forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects a total of 332,000 to 362,000 Covid-19 deaths by January 2, and up to 500,000 dead by April. That forecast combines modeling from 40 independent research groups. As I reported a few days ago in these pages, COVID-19 has now become the leading cause of death in the US.
Yet, the mortality statistics do not tell the full story. Many more people who survive COVID-19 suffer long term health problems, usually neurological or cardio-pulmonary. This will continue to be a drain on health resources, finances, families, and lead to reduced life-spans in many long after the pandemic wanes. These problems also are common in younger, healthier survivors, and in those who only had mild disease. This is the long-term cost that too many people ignore.