Hospitals are filling up. Again.
A worrying sign of the strength of the latest wave of coronavirus, hospitals in the United States and Europe are reaching capacity at a rapid rate.
In Idaho, a 99% full hospital has warned it may have to transfer Covid-19 patients out of state. Medical centers in Missouri and North Dakota have turned away patients in recent days because they have no room. In Poland, the government converted the country’s largest stadium into a temporary field hospital with capacity for 500 patients. Hospitals in France have started to postpone elective surgeries, while others have recalled staff on leave.
More than 40,000 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in the United States, a number that rose 40% last month. In Europe, the rate has been rising steadily for weeks, and people across much of the continent are now more likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19 than those in the United States.
The hospitalization rate is one of the best real-time measures we have of the severity of the pandemic. While the number of infections is highly dependent on an area’s screening capacity, critically ill people tend to enter hospitals whether or not they have been tested.
Right now, hospitalization rates in the US and the EU are lower than they were during the spring and summer peaks. But the sharply rising numbers are worrying as they affect areas with smaller hospital systems and with fewer resources.
The Czech Republic is a prime example in Europe, where the current hospitalization rate is worse than Britain’s at its peak. Doctors across the country are worried about the staffing shortage, and in some areas they say 10 percent of medical staff are in quarantine.
In the United States, the virus is ravaging rural areas, where residents have to rely on hospitals that have only a handful of beds. Patients are now more widely distributed across the country, and unlike when the virus was largely concentrated in New York City, few nurses or doctors are able to quit their jobs to help in other areas.
It’s not just hospitalizations: The death rate has also started to increase. And a new study has found that nearly 130,000 deaths from the virus could be prevented in the United States until next spring if everyone wore a mask.
After the blow
Once Americans start getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, government researchers will face a monumental task: monitoring the health of millions of Americans for potential problems and side effects.
By pure chance, thousands of people vaccinated will have heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses soon after they are injected. Determining whether these conditions were triggered by a vaccine will require a sophisticated and highly coordinated effort on the part of federal and state agencies, hospitals and drug manufacturers. And any issues or problems that arise will need to be clearly communicated to an audience that is suspicious and inundated with misinformation.
Our colleague Carl Zimmer reports exclusively that the National Vaccine Program Office, which was dedicated to monitoring the long-term safety of vaccines, was quietly dissolved by the Trump administration last year. A few dozen technical experts who were on staff in the office, based in the Department of Health and Human Services, were made redundant or moved to an office focused on HIV, not vaccines.
So far, monitoring plans for different vaccines have been fragmented. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Immunization Safety will follow up to 20 million healthcare workers and other essential workers who are expected to receive the first batch of authorized vaccines. The FDA plans to review electronic health records and insurance claims for models and analyze data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to track people over 65. Other vaccine tracking systems also have their limitations.
“We’re behind bullet eight,” said Daniel Salmon, who was director of vaccine safety in that office from 2007 to 2012, overseeing coordination during the H1N1 flu pandemic. “We don’t even know who is responsible.”
Sure American University Campuses, virus cases continue to increase. Of the more than 214,000 cases of coronavirus that have been identified this year, more than 35,000 have been identified since the beginning of October.
Poland, which has reported 64,783 cases of the coronavirus in the past seven days, will adopt a number of new restrictions starting on Saturday. Thirty percent of the country’s 214,686 total cases occurred last week.
Residents of Belgium will not be able to attend sporting events, theme parks will be closed and cultural events will be limited to 200 people for at least the next three weeks. The restrictions come a week after the country closed all restaurants, bars and cafes, and limited close social contact to one person outside of a household.
Turkish Minister of Health said that Istanbul now accounts for 40% of the total number of coronavirus cases in the country.
Here’s a roundup of restrictions in the 50 states.
What else are we following
After a safety break, AstraZeneca has resumed its vaccine trial against the virus in the United States.
In a calmer debate, President Trump and Joe Biden offered radically different visions of the pandemic.
A Covid baby bust? A report from the Brookings Institution estimated that the pandemic and resulting economic crisis could lead to 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in the United States next year.
A Louisiana State University investigation found that the lockdowns may have changed our personal habits, for the worse. Researchers found that respondents ate more healthy foods because they ate less. But they also nibbled more, exercised less, went to bed later, and slept worse.
An evangelical Los Angeles mega-church that has organized interior services in defiance of county health orders is behind a new epidemic, reports the Los Angeles Times.
In today’s edition of the morning newsletter, David Leonhardt examines Vermont’s largely successful approach to the virus.
Myss Keta, an Italian rap diva who had amassed a vast collection of facial covers she wore for years to hide her identity, was on the verge of stardom. Now everyone looks like him.
What do you do
At 89, I decided to put my papers in order. I collect all the stories I have ever told my family that now reside only in photographs, letters and documents, but mostly in my head. Hell, it’s more fun than doing crossword puzzles. Re-examining nine decades of significant events in my life is a great adventure in addition to a healer of sorts. Maybe I will live long enough to venture out and mingle with people again after we have all been injected with a reliable vaccine. However, the Grim Reaper looks at me with concern, one way or another.
– Melvin Grossgold, Paris
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