The decline in the incidence of COVID-19 in the United States over the past few weeks has brought some relief to overcrowded hospitals, but the administration is gearing up for another possible spike as cold weather forces people to leave.
Health experts say the fourth wave of the pandemic has peaked in the US, especially in the Deep South, where hospitals were at their peak a few weeks ago. But many northern states are still struggling with rising cases, and what lies ahead of winter is far less clear.
It is not known how the flu season can stress already exhausted hospital staff or whether those who refuse vaccinations will change their minds.
An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing fuel for the highly contagious delta variant.
“If you are not vaccinated or have no protection against natural infection, this virus will find you,” warned Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
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Across the country, the number of people currently in hospital with COVID-19 has dropped to about 75,000 from over 93,000 in early September. The number of new cases is declining, with an average of about 112,000 cases per day, about one third less than in the past 2 1/2 weeks.
Mortality also appears to be on the decline, averaging around 1,900 a day, up from more than 2,000 about a week ago, although the US closed Friday at a heartbreaking 700,000 death toll since the pandemic began.
The weakening summer surge is attributed to more people wearing masks and getting vaccinated. The decrease in the number of cases may also be due to the virus affecting susceptible people and running out of fuel in some places.
Merck said Friday that its experimental pill for people with COVID-19 has cut hospital admissions and deaths in half. If it gets regulatory approval, it will be the first pill to treat COVID-19 and an important and easy-to-use new weapon in the pandemic’s arsenal.
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All treatments for coronavirus currently approved in the United States require intravenous administration or injection.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s chief infectious disease specialist, warned on Friday that some may see encouraging trends as a reason for not being vaccinated.
“This is good news, we are starting to see the curves decline,” he said. “This is not a reason to give up the vaccination problem.”
Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana saw a spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations in mid-July, and by the first week of August, the area was overcrowded. He stopped planned operations and brought in military doctors and nurses to help patients.
Since cases are currently closed, the military group is due to leave at the end of October.
However, the hospital’s chief physician, Dr Catherine O’Neill, said the hospital admission rate is not dropping as fast as the community case because the delta variant is affecting more and more young people who are otherwise healthy and live much longer in the community. ventilated intensive care unit.
“This leads to a large number of patients in the intensive care unit who are not moving anywhere,” she said. And many patients won’t go home at all. There have been several days in the hospital over the past few weeks with more than five COVID-19 deaths every day, including one day when there were 10 deaths.
“Just a few days ago, we lost another father in his 40s,” O’Neill said. “This continues to happen. This is the tragedy of COVID. “
As for where the flash is coming from, “I have to tell you, my crystal ball has broken several times in the last two years,” she said. But she added that the hospital needs to be prepared for a new spike in late November as the flu season intensifies as well.
Dr. Sandra Kemmerli, systems medical director for hospital quality at Ochsner Health in Louisiana, said this fourth outbreak of the pandemic was heavier. “People just don’t like dying from vaccine-preventable diseases,” she said.
At the peak of this latest wave on August 9, there were 1,074 COVID-19 patients in Ochsner hospitals. As of Thursday, that figure fell to 208.
There is also a decline in other hospitals. In mid-August, 146 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. There were 39 on Friday. The Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia, South Carolina had more than 190 people in early September and just 49 on Friday.
But Kemmerli does not expect the decline to continue. “I fully expect to see more hospitalizations due to COVID,” she said.
Like many other healthcare professionals, Natalie Dean, professor of biostatistics at Emory University, is wary of winter.
It is unclear if the coronavirus will take on the seasonal nature of the flu, with predictable peaks in the winter when people gather indoors for the holidays. Simply because of the size and diversity of the country, there will be places where outbreaks will occur, she said.
Moreover, uncertainty about human behavior complicates the picture. People respond to risk by taking precautions, which slows down the transmission of the virus. Then, feeling more secure, people communicate more freely, triggering a new wave of infection.
“Models of infectious diseases are different from models of weather,” Dean said. “The hurricane is not changing course because of what the model said.”
One influential model developed by the University of Washington predicts that the number of new cases will rise again this fall, but the vaccine protection and immunity caused by the infection will prevent the virus from claiming as many lives as it killed last winter.
However, the model predicts that about 90,000 more Americans will die by January 1, bringing the total death toll by that date to 788,000. The model estimated that about half of these deaths could have been prevented if almost everyone wore masks in public.
“The wearing of masks is already going in the wrong direction,” said Ali Mokdad, a university professor who specializes in health indicators. “We have to be ready for winter because our hospitals are depleted.”