‘The near-term future is set, and it looks disastrous.’ Hospitals inch toward capacity during COVID

A woman lying on a stretcher is wheeled out of Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Northwell Health Hospital in the Queens borough of New York City, NY, November 10, 2020. The United States is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases as it recently surpassed 10 million in the number of people infected with coronavirus. Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

As coronavirus cases surge nationwide, hospitals are running dangerously close to capacity. Santa Clara County announced over the weekend they could be overwhelmed in three weeks.

Even some of the nation’s best-prepared hospitals are bracing for catastrophe. The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha is one case study. It has the only federal quarantine facility, it’s where Ebola patients were treated in 2014, and it took in some American COVID patients from the Diamond Princess cruise in the early days of the pandemic.

But Ed Yong, science writer at The Atlantic, says even UNMC is overwhelmed. “People at UNMC told me they’re on a catastrophic path, that they’re watching the system breaking in front of them. That should shake the entire nation. It shows how bad things have gotten.”

Yong says this wave of cases is the worst so far. Places like New York could seek help from other parts of the country when their resources were stretched thin. That’s not possible this time.

COVID patients also require more attention from nurses, and Yong says their hospital stays are three times longer, on average, than a typical patient.

After 1.5 million Americans have tested positive for the virus in the past 12 days, Yong says lagging hospitalization and death rates will soon follow. “It is too late to avert what is going to happen in these next two weeks. The near-term future is set, and it looks disastrous.”

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Credits

Guest:
Ed Yong - science writer at The Atlantic - @edyong209

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Caleigh Wells, Angie Perrin