Hospitals pushed to limit as coronavirus cases rise

Hospitals pushed to limit as coronavirus cases rise
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Hospitals in areas of the United States hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic are being pushed to their limits as cases skyrocket and they quickly run out of capacity to treat patients.

States are rushing to build temporary facilities to stay ahead of the surge in new patients. Officials scouring for more beds have turned to convention centers, field hospitals and even soccer fields.

New York, with more than 37,000 cases, is building an overflow hospital at a Manhattan convention center to handle non-COVID-19 cases. Temporary hospitals are also being set up at two state colleges and a convention center in Westchester, and the state is scouting even more sites.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that the hospitalization rate was “heading in the right direction” even as one hospital saw 13 patients die in a 24-hour period.  

But on Thursday, he acknowledged that hospitals will not be able to keep up unless they find more space, and said the state will need upwards of 140,000 beds, including 40,000 for intensive-care patients.

“Almost any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the capacity of the current health care system,” Cuomo said. “So ... we have to increase the hospital capacity and that’s why we're literally adding to the hospital capacity everywhere we can.”

Cuomo on Thursday said hospitals have enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, for doctors and nurses “for the immediate need,” but not enough beyond that. Hospitals do not have enough ventilators, and he said the state is shopping for more.

Cuomo has said the state needs 30,000 ventilators in as soon as 14 days when the peak of the epidemic is expected to hit, yet it only has 11,000 currently.

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A top Trump administration official on Thursday pushed back on the notion, made in several reports quoting workers at hospitals in New York, that the situation in the city is dire.

“We were reassured meeting with our colleagues in New York that there are still ICU beds remaining, and still significant, over 1,000 or 2,000 ventilators that have not been used yet,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House's coronavirus response. 

“To say that to the American people, to make the implication that when they need a hospital bed it's not going to be there, or when they need that ventilator it's not going to be there, we don't have an evidence of that right now,” Birx said.

Officials across the country are worried the thousands of people who will need to be hospitalized because of COVID-19 infections will swamp hospitals and their dwindling medical supplies.

In New York alone, more than 5,300 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Thursday, including 1,290 patients in intensive care units.

The need for space and equipment is expected to grow exponentially in the coming weeks and months, as cases double or triple, in some areas of the country.

“The urgency is real. The situation is getting more serious by the day,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) told reporters Thursday.

Beaumont Health, a network of hospitals in Michigan, was caring for 450 coronavirus patients as of Tuesday. CEO John Fox said the system was nearing capacity with staffing and supplies, and was turning some operating rooms into intensive care units.

It’s a similar situation in Washington, Louisiana, California and New Jersey, where the number of cases is surging.

Judith Persichilli, New Jersey’s health commissioner, said the need for more beds is already being felt. She added that cases in the state haven’t peaked yet, but coronavirus patients are “entering our hospitals at a faster rate.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is helping the standup four “pop-up” hospitals throughout the state that will hold 250 beds each.

In Louisiana, which saw a 28 percent increase in coronavirus cases overnight, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has made finding additional space to treat patients one of his top priorities.

“There are simply not enough health care resources to care for all those who will need care if we continue to develop cases at our current pace,” he told reporters Thursday.

He said the federal government granted his request for two 250-bed field hospitals and a team of 60 public health service workers. The state is preparing to stage 1,120 beds at a convention center this week. Hundreds of beds are also being added to hospitals throughout the state.

Edwards has also asked the federal government for permission to send coronavirus patients to a Veterans Affairs hospital in New Orleans.

Washington State Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeWhy a rising star is leaving Congress Inslee, GOP's Culp advance in Washington governor's race Governors call for Trump to extend funding for National Guard coronavirus response MORE (D) said hospitals are not yet overwhelmed with patients, but capacity must increase dramatically as soon as possible.

“This is a huge challenge for us to be able to surge that capacity, and even more daunting is many, if not most of our endangered citizens, need ICU care, which is obviously a whole new kettle of fish in the types of instruments we need and equipment we need in these beds,” Inslee said to reporters Thursday.

The state is getting two field hospitals from FEMA, he said. Additionally, a 200-bed facility is being erected on a soccer field in King County.

Officials in states that haven't yet experienced New York’s surge of infections are preparing for what most experts say is the inevitable.

Dr. Amy Acton, director of Ohio's Department of Health, said hospitals are already at 60 percent capacity, and the number of coronavirus cases is climbing steeply.

The state currently only has about 3,600 intensive care beds, but expects to see between 6,000 and 8,000 cases a day when they hit peak surge, she said.

Acton said the main focus is making space for the sickest patients.

“You'll see us using ERs as intensive care, surgery suites and even emergency rooms. A lot of it is turning it into capacity for the sickest,” Acton said.