US coronavirus cases pass 15m amid stark warnings over hospital care

US coronavirus cases pass 15m amid stark warnings over hospital care

US coronavirus cases pass 15m amid stark warnings over hospital care
There were 2,079 patients in state hospitals with Covid-19 the first time the number topped 2,000 since the pandemic began

The US on Tuesday crossed the threshold of 15 million coronavirus cases, by far the highest total in the world, as American hospitals braced to ration care amid staff shortages and warnings about the “rampant” spread of the disease.

Pennsylvania’s governor Tom Wolf said that the coronavirus was running rampant throughout his state and could soon force overwhelmed hospitals to begin turning away patients.

Wolf calls it a “dangerous, disturbing scenario” that will become reality if people do not take steps to slow the spread.

He said additional pandemic restrictions might be on the way but did not elaborate on what his administration might be considering, while also acknowledging the ones already in place have not worked.

Wolf said the unchecked spread of the virus in all regions of the state means that resource-sharing agreements among hospitals could soon begin to break down and force them to begin rationing care.

Still, the governor all but ruled out a return to the kinds of statewide restrictions he imposed in the spring, when schools were closed, thousands of businesses deemed non-essential were shut down, and all 12.8 million Pennsylvanians were under a stay-at-home order.

Three US states have recorded a million cases each of Covid-19 – California, Texas and Florida – and California has enacted new stay-at-home guidelines as coronavirus cases in the state have surged, placing 33 million pandemic-fatigued residents under some of the harshest restrictions in the US in a last-resort effort to rein in the pandemic.

The measures are the strictest since those enacted in March, when California’s early, aggressive lockdown helped keep the state’s death rate relatively low. Nine months on, however, a worn-out public seems less willing to comply with shelter-in-place and many workers – devastated by the economic toll of the pandemic – are unable to do so.

Deaths from the coronavirus in the US have soared to more than 2,200 a day on average, matching the peak reached last April, with the crisis likely to get worse because of the fallout from gatherings at Thanksgiving, Christmas and over the New Year.

Nearly every state is reporting surges. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of emergencies, said: “The epidemic in the US is punishing. It’s widespread. It’s quite frankly shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the US – a country with a wonderful, strong health system, amazing technological capacities.”

Meanwhile, New Mexico is soon expected to authorize hospitals to begin rationing care based on how likely a coronavirus patient is to survive – a move health and medical experts in the south-western state had hoped to avoid but in recent days acknowledged could be necessary amid spiraling hospitalizations.

New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who had been tipped as a potential health secretary in the Joe Biden incoming administration, but lost out, is expected to issue a declaration permitting hospitals to switch to crisis standards of care, as first reported in the Washington Post.

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor’s Office, said the crisis standards of care had not yet been authorized or implemented but on Friday signed an executive order that will make it easier for hospitals to implement such standards.

“In the simplest possible terms, it provides for the temporary facilitation of that assistance that may become necessary outside providers’ regular scope of practice and support. So, if and when the Department of Health deems it necessary, they can,” Stelnicki stated.

In a statement, Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, one of New Mexico’s largest health care providers, said such a declaration “provides another lever for hospitals to meet the demand during this surge.”

“This is an incredibly concerning time for our entire community, and especially for our clinicians and staff,” Mitchell said. “We will care for our patients as safely and effectively as possible. We urge our fellow New Mexicans to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by limiting gatherings, practicing social distancing, masking up and staying home whenever possible.”

And David Gonzales, chief medical officer for Christus St Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, said the hospital has seen “a significant increase” in COVID-19 patients in recent weeks.

“In the event that we have a strain on hospital capacity and resources we, like other New Mexico hospitals, will utilize the established crisis standards of care as a consistent guide for triaging patients when health care resources become inadequate,” Gonzales said.

Meanwhile, Alabama on Monday set a record of more than 2,000 Covid-19 patients in state hospitals as some facilities began to postpone non-emergency procedures amid staff shortages.

There were 2,079 patients in state hospitals with Covid-19 the first time the number topped 2,000 since the pandemic began, according to state numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said at least three hospitals have begun to postpone non-emergency procedures amid staff shortages.

“My real concern is I still don’t see anything to break the spread between now and getting through Christmas. That’s my real concern, and frankly I’m increasingly frustrated about why it is so difficult for individuals to be willing to wear masks,” Williamson said.

“The election’s over. It should no longer be political. People are dying, and we can do better than this.”

Williamson said some facilities have as many as 100 staff members out with Covid-19.

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