Hospitals fill up. Again.
In a ominous sign of the strength of the recent surge in coronavirus, hospitals in the US and Europe are rapidly reaching capacity.
In Idaho, a 99 percent full hospital warned that Covid-19 patients may need to be removed from the state. Medical centers in Missouri and North Dakota have turned patients away for the past few days because they were out of space. In Poland, the government converted the country’s largest stadium into a temporary field hospital with space for 500 patients. Hospitals in France have begun postponing operations without an emergency while other workers have called back on vacation.
There are currently more than 40,000 people hospitalized with the coronavirus in the United States, a number that has increased 40 percent in the last month. In Europe, the rate has been rising steadily for weeks, and people across much of the continent are now hospitalized with Covid-19 more often than in the US.
The hospitalization rate is one of the best real-time measurements we have of the severity of the pandemic. While infection numbers are highly dependent on the testing capacity of an area, seriously ill people enter hospitals regardless of whether they have been tested or not.
Currently, hospitalization rates in both the US and EU are lower than they were in spring and summer. However, the soaring numbers are worrying as they hit areas with smaller hospital systems with fewer resources.
A prime example of this in Europe is the Czech Republic, where the current hospitalization rate at its peak is worse than the UK. Doctors across the country are concerned about a staff shortage and in some regions they say 10 percent of medical staff are in quarantine.
In the US, the virus is devastating rural areas where residents have to rely on hospitals that may only have a handful of beds. Patients are now more widely spread across the country, and unlike when the virus was largely concentrated in New York, there are few nurses or doctors who can leave their jobs to help in other regions.
It’s not just hospital stays: The death rate has also increased. And a new study found that if everyone wore a mask, nearly 130,000 deaths from the virus could be prevented in the U.S. by next spring.
After the shot
Once Americans start taking vaccines against the coronavirus, government researchers will face a monumental task: they will have to monitor the health of millions of Americans to look for possible problems and side effects.
By chance, thousands of people who have been vaccinated have heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses soon after the injection. Determining whether these diseases were caused by a vaccine requires a sophisticated, highly coordinated effort by federal and state agencies, hospitals, and drug manufacturers. And any problems that arise must be clearly communicated to a suspicious public full of disinformation.
Our colleague Carl Zimmer reports exclusively that the National Vaccine Program Office, which was dedicated to monitoring the long-term safety of vaccines, was tacitly closed by the Trump administration last year. A couple of dozen technical experts who occupied the office in the Department of Health and Human Services were fired or moved to an office that focused on HIV, not vaccines.
So far, plans to pursue the various vaccines have been fragmented. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Immunization Safety Bureau will register up to 20 million healthcare workers and other key workers expected to receive the first batch of approved vaccines. The FDA plans to examine electronic health records and insurance claims for samples 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 the eight,” said Daniel Salmon, who served as the director of vaccination safety in the office from 2007 to 2012, overseeing coordination during the H1N1 flu pandemic. “We don’t even know who is responsible.”
On US college campus, Virus cases continue to climb. Of the more than 214,000 coronavirus cases identified this year, more than 35,000 have been identified since early October.
Poland, which has reported 64,783 cases of the coronavirus in the past seven days, a number of new restrictions will be in place starting Saturday. 30 percent of the nation’s 214,686 cases occurred in the past week.
inhabitant 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 closes all restaurants, bars and cafes and restricts close social contact with someone outside of a household.
The Turkish Minister of Health said that the country’s capital, Istanbul, now accounts for 40 percent of the total number of coronavirus cases in the country.
Here is a summary of the restrictions in all 50 states.
What else are we pursuing
AstraZeneca resumed its virus vaccine trial in the US after a safety hiatus
In a quieter debate, President Trump and Joe Biden offered vastly different visions of the pandemic.
A Covid baby bust? A report by the Brookings Institution estimated that the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis could result in 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in the US next year.
A Louisiana State University survey found that bans may have changed our personal habits for the worse. The researchers found that respondents ate more healthy foods because they ate less. But they also ate more, exercised less, went to bed later and slept worse.
A Los Angeles mega evangelical church that was holding services despite the county’s health regulations is the source of a new outbreak, reports the Los Angeles Times.
In today’s edition of the morning newsletter, David Leonhardt examines Vermont’s largely successful handling of the virus.
Myss Keta, an Italian rap diva who had amassed a huge collection of face coverings that she wore for years to hide her identity, was on the verge of fame. Now everyone looks like her.
What you are doing
When I was 89 I decided to get my papers in order. I collect all the stories I have ever told my family and which are now only contained in photos, letters and documents, but mainly in my head. Hell, it’s more fun than doing crossword puzzles. Re-examining nine decades of significant events in my life is both a great adventure and a kind of healer. Maybe I’ll live long enough to venture back out there after we’ve all been injected with a reliable vaccine. However, the Grim Reaper eyed me anxiously in one way or another.
– Melvin Grossgold, Paris
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