Oct 27, 2020 - Health

The coronavirus is starting to crush some hospitals

Illustration of a giant virus cell crushing a crumbling health plus.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some states are seeing dangerous levels of coronavirus hospitalizations, with hospitals warning that they could soon become overwhelmed if no action is taken to slow the spread.

Why it matters: Patients can only receive good care if there's enough care to go around — which is one reason why the death rate was so much higher in the spring, some experts say.

Driving the news: The Utah Hospital Association has warned that the state's situation is becoming so dire that hospitals are expecting to begin rationing care within a week or two, per The Salt Lake Tribune.

  • El Paso has issued a new stay at home order in response to overwhelmed hospitals, and additional beds are being set up in the city's convention center.
  • On Saturday, North Dakota had only 22 available intensive care beds and 247 regular inpatient beds, the Grand Forks Herald reports.
  • Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced the return of some social distancing measures yesterday, per the Idaho Statesman. “Hospitals throughout the state are quickly filling up or are already full with COVID-19 patients and other patients, and way too many health care workers are out sick with COVID-19,” he said.

The big picture: The problem is particularly acute in rural parts of the Mountain West and the Midwest, where health care workers are scarce. When they're infected by the virus or forced to quarantine after exposure, it's hard to find replacements, Kaiser Health News reports.

  • For now, hospitals are continuing on with elective procedures, the Wall Street Journal reports. The suspension of such procedures in the spring led to heavy financial losses, health care worker layoffs and worsening health conditions among non-coronavirus patients.

Yes, but: Several Republican governors continue to resist statewide mask mandates, and it's unclear how far state and local governments will go in response to the surge of cases.

  • When cases surged earlier on, “our governments reacted,” Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine professor at Brown University, told the Washington Post. “We closed bars. We closed restaurants. We enforced mask mandates. And I’m not seeing a lot of that nationally right now.”

The bottom line: Pandemic fatigue, politicization of the virus and the upcoming holiday season all make it almost certain that the situation will get worse before it gets better. The consequences will be deadly.

Go deeper