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COVID-19 strains hospitals from Poland to Utah as pandemic worsens

By Jason Gale, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Surging coronavirus cases across Europe and North America are filling intensive care beds, straining hospitals and prompting some to warn of critical shortages, as the global pandemic takes a worrying turn.

Hospitalizations skyrocketed in more than a dozen countries in Europe, with admissions soaring beyond the peak reached last spring in a swathe from Austria to Portugal. In the U.S., where new cases topped 89,000 Thursday — a daily record — weekly hospitalization rates have climbed since Sept. 26, with COVID-19 cases accounting for more than 15% of patients in North and South Dakota, government data show.

France and Germany will clamp down on movement for at least a month, approaching the stringent lockdowns in the spring as Europe seeks to regain control of the crisis. France reported 47,637 new cases Thursday, more than six times the level a month ago. The government plans to spend an additional 2.5 billion euros ($2.9 billion) preparing hospitals for the disease, which President Emmanuel Macron said may cause 9,000 patients to fall critically ill by mid-November.

"We're seeing increasing transmission throughout much of Europe," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, in a podcast Thursday. "France is right now one of the hottest countries in the world, far exceeding the case numbers we've seen on a per-population basis here in the United States."

Worldwide, 44.6 million confirmed cases and nearly 1.2 million deaths were reported to the World Health Organization as of Friday morning. The U.S., India, Brazil, Russia and France had the most new cases. The global tally jumped almost 18% in the week ending Oct. 19, the biggest weekly increase since March.

"There's a certain sense of foreboding when you see community transmission reach high levels," said Stephen Warrillow, an intensive care doctor in Melbourne and former president of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society. A surge in cases typically means intensive-care admissions will increase 10 to 14 days later, he said.


The COVID-19 surge in the U.S. Midwest rose to a record, led by new highs in Kansas, Iowa and South Dakota as the region's outbreak spread toward both coasts. More than 42,000 Americans were hospitalized nationally with the disease on Monday, the Washington Post said. With cases shattering records on a daily basis, Utah's hospitals may begin rationing care in a week or two, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Although most people who get infected have mild-to-moderate symptoms, about 5% of patients will require hospitalization and about 1% will need intensive care, Warrillow said.

"When it just rips through a community, then the numbers are just staggering," he said. "Intensive care isn't designed for massive peaks like that. It's easy to potentially overwhelm your critical care system even with relatively moderate increases."

In the U.S., Texas has the most hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with 5,745 cases filling 9.7% of occupied beds, data updated Thursday from the Department of Health and Human Services show. In six states, more than 10% of hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients.


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