U.S. hospitals are caring for the highest number of patients with Covid-19 reported during the pandemic, according to federal government data, as the Omicron variant worsens pressures on the already strained facilities.
The U.S. seven-day average reached 140,576 people hospitalized with confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, more than the previous high recorded during the surge last winter, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.
Hospitalization numbers from early in the pandemic aren’t comprehensive enough to show levels from the earliest waves.
The tallies suggest that a new onslaught of patients are arriving at many hospitals that have been struggling with staffing shortages and heavy caseloads, forcing doctors, nurses and responders to make even tougher decisions about who should get care.
“Somebody somewhere is calling 911, and they are waiting longer for an ambulance,” said Gerald Maloney, chief medical officer for the Geisinger health system’s hospitals in Pennsylvania.
The hospitalizations also reflect the breakneck pace of the current Covid-19 wave. Many people are showing up at hospitals for other reasons, some hospital and state data show, and then testing positive for Covid-19.
Omicron, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated accounts for 98% of the country’s Covid-19 cases, is likely to blame for most recent hospitalizations, though the government data doesn’t break down the variant responsible.
Signs suggest the highly transmissible new variant tends to cause milder disease and puts fewer patients in intensive care than earlier strains. The volume of hospitalizations, hospital officials and doctors say, reflects the variant’s contagiousness.
“It’s a numbers game,” said Michelle Prickett, a pulmonary and critical-care specialist at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
By last week, the 11 hospitals in the larger Northwestern Medicine system had 16% more Covid-19 patients than in the last peak, hit in November 2020, and the rate is expected to grow, a spokeswoman said.
Intensive-care patients in Dr. Prickett’s hospital still need treatment for serious Covid-19 cases. “We are still seeing people struggling, we are still seeing the destruction of the lungs,” she said.
Anthony DeBarros contributed to this article.