May 15, 2020 - Health

Where coronavirus hospitalizations are falling

Data: COVID Tracking Project, Harvard Global Health Institute; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Coronavirus hospitalizations have declined in many states — another indication that social distancing has been effective at curbing the virus' spread.

Why it matters: Hospitalizations are an important metric to watch to gauge the severity of the outbreak, especially because testing shortfalls have skewed some other measurements. Those numbers aren't falling everywhere, and any approach to reopening needs to be carefully managed to prevent them from spiking yet again.

Between the lines: Hospitals need to report this data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention daily, but we still don't have real-time numbers, due in part to the failures of the country's electronic health data infrastructure.

What the data show: Among the 40 states that have consistently provided data, COVID-19 hospitalizations are taking up a smaller percentage of all occupied hospital beds in many states, including hotspots like Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

  • No more than 25% of hospital beds in any state are occupied by coronavirus patients.

Yes, but: Hospitalization rates aren't dropping, and in some cases are rising, in several states, including Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico and Virginia.

What's next: Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator of infection, because it takes a while for people to feel sick and seek intensive care — so the coming weeks will provide a clearer picture of whether some states and hospitals are getting hammered again.

Even in states like Vermont — where there have been very few hospitalizations and aggressive social distancing protocols — health care officials are treading carefully with reopening businesses and restarting elective medical procedures.

  • "Mitigation bought us time we really needed," said Stephen Leffler, an ER doctor and president of the University of Vermont Medical Center, which has two of the state's five current COVID-19 inpatients. "Now we're planning for the next phase, which is for COVID to be part of the new normal."

Go deeper: High-risk states are seeing fewer new coronavirus cases

Go deeper