Dec 6, 2020 - Health

Hospitals across the U.S. reach breaking point as coronavirus surges

A medical professional wearing PPE opens a door

A healthcare professional exits a Covid-19 patient's room in the ICU at Van Wert County Hospital in Van Wert, Ohio on Nov. 20. Photo: Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images

Hospitals across the country are reaching their breaking point on ICU and bed capacity as COVID surges, forcing many health systems to begin diverting patients from emergency rooms and ration care.

The big picture: Current hospitalizations from the coronavirus have been continually rising since October, and more than 100,000 Americans are now in the hospital with COVID infections. Health officials are worried that Thanksgiving travel exacerbated already skyrocketing cases.

  • Pennsylvania: "Most hospitals in Montgomery County are at or near capacity," county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh said in Norristown, Pennsylvania last Wednesday. She noted that the majority of hospitals in the state's third-most populous county are diverting patients from emergency rooms and canceling surgeries.
  • New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham (D) plans to allow hospitals to ration care depending on how likely a patient is to survive, the Washington Post reports. Grisham required residents to wear masks and re-enacted strict mitigation efforts.
  • Ohio: "We are in a really difficult spot here when hospitals are already at their highest levels and at high capacity across the state, and we’re just heading into what the CDC director has described as the most challenging three months of the pandemic," Andy Thomas, chief clinical officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical center, said at the governor's news conference last week.
  • Georgia: Major hospitals, including Grady Memorial and Emory University, have had to turn away patients brought in ambulances, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports.
  • South Dakota: The Monument Health Rapid City Hospital and Sanford USD Medical Center — some of the biggest in the state — say they have no more ICU beds, The Mitchell Republic reports.
  • Colorado: More than a third of hospitals across the state said in a survey they expect staffing shortages this week, Colorado Public Radio reports.

Context: White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx noted on Sunday's "Meet the Press" that U.S. hospitals are usually anywhere from 80 to 90% full in the fall and winter — and "when you add 10, 15, 20% COVID-19 patients on top of that, that's what puts them at the breaking point."

Go deeper: Health care workers at a breaking point

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