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COVID deaths are up 40%. These states are running low on ICU beds and health workers

September 15, 2021, 10:27 PM UTC

Eighteen months into the pandemic, COVID is again pushing America’s health care infrastructure to a breaking point, with intensive care units at capacity and shortages of health workers being reported widely across the country, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

In Kentucky, where more than 90% of the state’s ICU beds are occupied, 60% of its hospitals were also experiencing critical staffing shortages as of Wed. Sept 15. The dire situation, paired with a still high number of new cases, led Kentucky governor Andy Beshear and his top health official to warn residents that the state’s hospitals were on the “brink of collapse.” More than 40% of South Carolina’s hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages, and more than 30% of hospitals in 10 other states—including Arizona, California, and Georgia—are as well. 

In terms of ICU capacity, there are six states, including Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee with less than 10% of their beds currently available; Alabama is again in the worst shape, with 102.1% of its ICU beds occupied (i.e. more patients than beds). Nineteen other states have more than 80% of their intensive care beds occupied.

The strain on the system is all the more concerning given the high number of hospitalizations and deaths nationwide due to COVID, due to the particularly contagious Delta variant. The U.S. is reporting an average of 1,888 deaths per day due to the virus, up 40% over the figure two weeks ago, according to the New York Times. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the U.S. has lost 664,231 people to COVID, which as Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute recently pointed out, is at the current rate, just days shy of surpassing the estimated number of Americans (675,000) who died in the 1918 flu pandemic.

While the number of new coronavirus cases reported each day has begun to fall in the hardest-hit states in the U.S. South, including Alabama and Florida (down 47.4% from two weeks ago), they are climbing in more than half U.S. states, led by Maine, where cases are up more than 69% over two weeks ago. The group of states new cases are on the rise include Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota where ICU space is severely limited.

If there’s good news to glean from this week’s picture, it’s that the number of fully vaccinated individuals—those protected from the most severe COVID cases—is increasing, particularly in recently hard-hit Southern states where vaccination rates have lagged. In Mississippi, the number of fully vaccinated individuals is 9.5% higher than two weeks ago. In Arkansas and Alabama, the vaccinated population has grown by 5.6% and 5.3%, respectively, in the same time period.

Overall, 54.1% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up from 53.3% a week ago. When it comes to individuals 12 and older who are eligible for the vaccine, the rate is 63.3%.

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