The reports have come in from all across the country: Hospitals are filling up, especially in the Midwest, and they are running out of the staff they need to take care of patients.
Last week, the United States broke its record from April for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, blowing past 60,000 all the way to 73,000, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic.
Now new data released by the Department of Health and Human Services quantify the crisis in America’s hospitals in closer detail. At The Atlantic’s request, HHS provided data on the number of hospitals experiencing staffing shortages. From November 4 to November 11, 958 hospitals—19 percent of American hospitals—faced a staffing shortage. This week, 1,109 hospitals reported that they expect to face a staffing shortage. That’s 22 percent of all American hospitals.
In eight states, the situation is even more dire. More than 35 percent of hospitals in Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin are anticipating a staffing shortage this week. COVID-19 puts pressure on hospitals in two ways. One, staff members get sick or are exposed to the coronavirus and have to stay home, reducing the labor supply. Two, more patients arrive at the hospital, increasing demand. A surge of cases makes both factors worse.
As a rule of thumb, the COVID Tracking Project has found that an increase in cases shows up as an increase in hospitalizations about 12 days later. Over the past 12 days, the seven-day average for new cases has jumped from fewer than 90,000 a day to 150,000 a day. While we’ve been able to track the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 since March, we have not known how many new people were being admitted to hospitals each day, perhaps the best indicator of surging infections. But yesterday, HHS released this data going back to mid-July. At the peak of the summer surge, the seven-day average of daily admissions topped 5,000. Yesterday, the same measure topped 10,000. We should expect many more hospitalizations, and even worse staffing shortages, to come. [Continue reading…]