More than 100,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, a grim record amid three straight weeks of them: Every day since Nov. 9 has seen more Americans hospitalized than at the peak of the first wave of this virus this spring, with more admissions every day.
This spring, hospital occupancy peaked on April 15th at 59,924, according to data provided by The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project. That record held until Nov. 10, when the U.S. saw 62,059 hospitalized; the number has crept steadily higher every day since.
Of the 100,226 currently hospitalized, 19,396 are in intensive care units and 6,855 are on a ventilator.
Deaths are certain to follow. Daily deaths are already approaching 2,500, on par with the worst numbers we saw in April:
Our daily update is published. States reported 1.4 million tests, 196k cases, and 2,733 deaths. There are 100,226 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US —the first time hospitalizations have exceeded 100k. pic.twitter.com/8QSKujBGao
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) December 3, 2020
Health officials are scrambling to add capacity as hospitals are once again pushed to the brink and staff are stretched perilously thin.
“Hospitals all around the country are worried on a day-to-day basis about their capacity,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Associated Press, “and we’re not really even into winter season and we haven’t seen the impact of Thanksgiving travel and Thanksgiving gatherings.”
Adalja noted that this surge of the virus is different than the hot spots we saw earlier in the year. This time, vast swaths of the country are seeing concurrent outbreaks, so resources ― including doctors and nurses ― can’t simply reallocate from elsewhere.
In North Dakota, home to the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the world in mid-November, desperate hospitals have tried to lure in traveling nurses with salaries in excess of $8,000 a week.
“Nurses quit, join traveling nursing companies and go work for a different hospital down the street, making two to three times the rate,” Jordan Sorenson, a project manager for the Utah Hospital Association, told NBC News. “So it’s really a kind of a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul staffing situation.”
Data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Protect” system shows 13.64% of all inpatient beds in the U.S. are occupied by COVID-19 patients and 68.02%, or 484,736 beds, overall are full, though the accuracy of those numbers is highly disputable.
An investigation by Science Magazine in November found HHS Protect data to be highly inconsistent after the Trump administration and White House Coronavirus Task Force in July forced the CDC to turn over COVID-19 tracking responsibility to private contractors.
In the last two months, HHS Protect data tracking COVID-19 inpatient totals has been off by more than 20% in 30 states compared to state-supplied data, the academic journal found.
That discrepancy has led to real-world life and death problems as health officials seek to accurately distribute scarce resources. In Wisconsin, for instance, HHS Protect data reported 71% of state beds were full on Nov. 16, while a different system showed occupancy was 91%.
“The HHS Protect data are poor quality, inconsistent with state reports, and the analysis is slipshod,” a CDC source who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation from the Trump administration told Science. “And the pressure on hospitals [from COVID-19] is through the roof.”