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Number of COVID patients in US hospitals hits record high


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The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has plunged to its lowest level since the early days of the pandemic, providing a well-deserved break for healthcare workers and patients after the omicron surge.

The number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus has dropped by more than 90% in more than two months, and some hospitals are going days without a single COVID-19 patient in intensive care for the first time since early 2020.

The beds freed up should help US hospitals retain exhausted staff, treat non-COVID-19 patients faster and cut bloated costs. More family members can visit their loved ones. And doctors hope to see a downward correction in pediatric visits, annual exams and cancer screenings.

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“We should all be smiling that the number of people sitting in hospital right now with COVID, and people in intensive care units with COVID, is at this low point,” said the University of South Florida Jason Salemi.

But, he said, the nation “paid a high price to get to this point. … A lot of people got sick and a lot of people died.”

Hospitalizations are now at their lowest level since the summer of 2020, when comprehensive national data first became available. The average number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past week nationwide fell to 11,860, the lowest since 2020 and a sharp drop from the peak of more than 145,000 set in mid- January. The previous low was 12,041 last June, before the delta variant took hold.

FILE – Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk along Broadway in the SoHo neighborhood of New York, Friday, March 4, 2022. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has plunged to its lowest level since the early days of the pandemic , providing a well-deserved break to health care providers and patients following the surge of omicron. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
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The optimistic trend is also clear in the number of patients in intensive care, which has fallen to less than 2,000, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’re starting to be able to catch our breath,” said Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein, patient safety manager for Kettering Health’s hospital system in western Ohio.

Patients with COVID-19 had occupied 30% of Kettering Health’s nearly 1,600 hospital beds in January, Weinstein said. Kettering’s eight hospitals now average two to three COVID-19 admissions a day – and sometimes zero.

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And while Salemi agreed it was a good time for a worn-out healthcare system to catch its breath, he warned that the public health community needed to keep an eye out for the BA.2 subvariant of omicron. It is leading to a rise in hospitalizations in Britain and is now estimated to account for more than half of infections in the United States.

“We are probably underdetecting true infections now more than at any other time during the pandemic,” Salemi said.

For now at least, many hospitals are noting the low numbers.

On Thursday in California, UC Davis Health tweeted that its intensive care unit had no COVID-19 patients for two consecutive days for the first time in two years.

“The first COVID-19 patient to arrive in our intensive care unit did so in February 2020, and the unit has treated at least one positive person every day since, for at least 761 consecutive days,” the system said. hospital.

Toby Marsh, the head of nursing and patient care services, said in a statement that they hoped the numbers “indicate lasting change”.

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In Philadelphia, patients are spending less time in the Temple University healthcare system because there are no more backlogs for MRIs, CT scans and lab tests, said Dr. Tony Reed, physician- chief.

As of Thursday, Temple Health’s three hospitals had six adult patients with COVID-19, likely its lowest patient count since March 2020, Reed said.

During the omicron push, patients waited up to 10 p.m. for a routine MRI, which is normally done within 12 hours. Longer waits affected those who came in with difficulty walking – and in a lot of pain – for example, due to a herniated disc pinching their sciatic nerve.

Number of COVID patients in US hospitals hits record high

FILE – Children and their caregivers arrive at school in New York, Monday, March 7, 2022. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has plunged to its lowest level since the early days of the pandemic, providing a pause well-deserved to healthcare workers and patients alike after the omicron surge. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
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“Nobody wants to stay in the hospital a day longer than necessary,” Reed said.

Emptying beds also helps patients in rural areas, said Jay Anderson, chief operating officer of Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State in Columbus. During the surges, the hospital struggled to accept people from community hospitals who needed high care for brain tumors, advanced cancers and strokes. This burden is now lifted.

Visitors will also return in greater numbers, starting on Tuesday. Ohio State will no longer limit patients to two designated guests, who could only drop in separately.

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“Patients heal better when they have access to family and loved ones,” Anderson said.

Doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists are also getting a well-deserved break in some areas.

In Colorado, Dr. Michelle Barron said persistently low COVID-19 hospitalizations brought smiles among staff, even when she double-checks the numbers to make sure they’re actually correct.

“I had one of those moments like, oh this is amazing,” said Barron, medical director of infection prevention and control at UCHealth Hospital at the University of Colorado. “It’s unreal.”

UCHealth has relaxed some restrictions, including removing testing requirements for anyone entering a facility. And while that is producing some anxiety among staff, Barron says the numbers haven’t increased.

“I think some people started taking vacations and not feeling guilty,” she said. “I had spring break with my kids and it was a level of happiness where I went, oh my god, that’s actually normal.”

The omicron surge had stretched staff at work — but also at home, said Dr. Mike Hooper, chief medical officer at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in southeast Virginia.

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“It was stressful being at the store…visiting your family,” Hooper said. “We’re all hoping that some ‘return to normal’ will help people deal with the stress that comes with being part of the healthcare team.”

But just because hospitalizations are down doesn’t mean hospitals are empty, said Dr. Frank Johnson, chief medical officer for St. Luke’s Health System in Idaho.

Certain measures – such as the wearing of masks in certain contexts – will remain in place.

Number of COVID patients in US hospitals hits record high

FILE – A sign points to a COVID testing site at the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Cincinnati, January 3, 2022. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has plunged to its lowest level since the early days of the pandemic, providing a well much-needed break for healthcare workers and patients following the omicron surge. The number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus has dropped more than 90% in more than two months, and some hospitals are going days without a single COVID-19 patient in intensive care for the first time since early 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean, File)
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“I don’t know when we will be able to return to the old practices around mask-wearing in our clinical areas,” Johnson said. “We have seen some benefits in terms of reducing the number of other viral infections.”

In the meantime, the public health community is monitoring omicron’s BA.2 subvariant.

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Salemi, the University of South Florida epidemiologist, said the increase in home testing means more results are not included in the official coronavirus case count. Therefore, sewage monitoring will be the early warning signal to watch out for, he said.

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“BA.2 is here,” he said. “We don’t have to look that far in the rear view mirror to know that things can change very quickly. We saw what happened with delta. We saw what happened with omicron… We don’t want to wait until we see a lot of people in hospital before we act.”

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