Detailed data released this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services illustrates just how much the nation’s hospitals have recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic’s third wave.
Although more than 1,500 Americans are dying from COVID-19 every day, the new data show COVID-19 patients comprising a smaller and smaller share of hospital admissions around the country, most drastically in the West and South, regions hit hard by the disease through the holidays.
“Overall we are seeing the numbers of COVID patients in our hospitals at the lowest levels in more than a year,” said Bart Buxton, president and CEO of McLaren Health Management Group in Michigan, in an email. “We currently have fewer than 80 patients total in our 15 hospitals with SARS-COV-2 primary diagnosis and very few of those patients are in our ICUs.”
Dr. Nicholas Mark, a critical care physician in Seattle, says he’s also seen improvement. “Things have definitely gotten much better over the last few months.”
The number of hospitals with more than half of patients infected with COVID-19 has dropped from 193 to 10 since early January. States like California, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and South Carolina have experienced some of the steepest drops in COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to the HHS data.
Intensive care units have become less strained, as well. The number of hospitals reporting ICUs at or above capacity has fallen by more than 50% since early January. There were 138 hospitals reporting full intensive care units as of March 4, down from 324 the week of Jan. 8-14 – the lowest level since the week of Nov. 6-12.
The number of hospitals reporting ICUs filled exclusively with patients confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 has fallen from 35 to four since early January.
This data, reported by more than 4,500 hospitals, does not include hospitals run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Defense Health Agency and Indian Health Service. Figures from some small hospitals have been removed from the HHS data set.
HHS began reporting individual hospital occupancy rates in December, including detailed statistics for intensive care units. The COVID-19 rate is the number of adult patients confirmed or suspected of being infected divided by the number of inpatient beds that would be allowed under normal limits on space and staffing. Occupancy can exceed 100% if a hospital exceeds those limits.
“These numbers are very encouraging,” said Dr. Karen Joynt Maddox, a professor at Washington University School of Medicine. “We have a long way to go, but things are certainly heading in the right direction. And keeping COVID patients out of ICU beds is good in terms of COVID, but it’s also good in terms of so many other things – having capacity to take care of patients who need cancer treatment, or patients who need heart surgery, or patients who need trauma care.”
Aleszu Bajak is on Twitter at @aleszubajak or can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.