Although the omicron variant tends to be milder, it is spreading so explosively across the United States that many hospitals expect it to rival or exceed previous records for admitting Covid patients. .
Hospitals are bracing for a continued increase in demand for Covid-related beds for the coming month, according to models from several facilities across the country.
At Yale Hospital New Haven in Connecticut, “our historic peak was 451 Covid patients as of April 2020,” said Robert Fogerty, who oversees the hospital’s capacity management of 1,541 beds. “I think we’ll get past that by next week.”
The good news, said he and other hospital data experts, is that compared to previous waves, omicron is landing far fewer people in intensive care units, especially in areas with high vaccination rates.
Growing demand for beds has prompted health officials to step up some protective measures, including urging people to get vaccine boosters and wear better masks, even though omicron infections appear to be causing symptoms. lighter than previous strains.
“It’s going to be a tough winter and the peak period looks set to roll over the next few weeks,” said Jacob Lemieux, infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School. “So if people can fall back as far as possible, that would be a service to society.”
Omicron tends to run out quickly in some other countries, but the slope of its upward and downward trajectory in the United States remains an open question. A projection by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington shows that hospital resource requirements peak nationwide in mid-February.
Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles also predicts that the number of Covid patients in its hospitals will continue to rise until mid-February. In San Francisco, director of health Grant Colfax said this week in a briefing that he believes “the peak of the wave is upon us” and that he expects hospitalizations to reach as high as about the same level as last winter.
“At the moment we have enough hospital beds to handle this volume, which is good news,” Colfax said. “However, another concern is that hospital staff are infected due to the spread in the community and must stay at home.”
In Texas, modeling from the Houston Methodist Hospital predicts that cases in Houston will peak towards the end of the month and the burden of Covid patients could drop from the current 680 to a record 850.
Here too, staff illness is adding to the pressure: nearly 10% of the 28,000 healthcare system staff tested positive during the omicron wave, according to Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president of the hospital.
“We’ve cut back on a lot of surgeries,” Schwartz said. “We have some closed beds and were unable to accept the same number of transfers as we normally do.”
A significant number of people hospitalized with Covid have been admitted for other reasons, according to staff at several hospitals. While less serious, the omicron is still straining for resources as staff strive to protect themselves and other patients. In the Miami hot spot, for example, Jackson Health System said on Wednesday that 235 of its current 468 patients with Covid-19 were there for “primarily reasons unrelated to Covid.”
At the University of Michigan Health, the number of Covid hospitalizations started to increase last week and could eventually increase by more than 50% to 150 in the coming weeks, said Vikas Parekh, who leads the system’s Covid modeling. .
While some see a decoupling of case rates from hospitalization rates, he maintained that rates remain tied. although the ratio has changed: “Previously 6.5% of cases nationwide ended with a new hospital admission,” he said, “and now it’s 3.3% – it’s not decoupled, it’s just less than delta. “
But the large number of cases means “that even with lower hospitalization rates, you find places that are breaking records,” he said.
In Boston, two large hospitals, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital, predict their Covid patient numbers may well peak last winter’s wave in the coming weeks.
“It challenges us all in healthcare in a way we’ve never seen before,” said Jennifer Stevens, who heads modeling for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
On the plus side, high vaccination rates in Greater Boston mean less acute illness when people get sick, said Peter Dunn, who manages patient capacity at Mass. General and helps oversee the capacity of the Covid Hospital in the area.
During the first wave of the pandemic, Mass. General had 14 patients whose condition was so severe that they needed machines to support their hearts and lungs. “We don’t have any of those patients right now,” Dunn said.
Tuesday, Mass. General had 183 Covid patients, 32 of them in intensive care and only 22 due to Covid, Dunn said. The others had the Covid but were for other reasons. At the height of the first wave, the hospital had around 400 Covid patients.
“This wave is not like wave 1 or wave 2,” he said. “It’s completely different.”
–With help from Shelly Hagan and David R. Baker.