Remember Overwhelmed Hospitals Across the US Three Years Ago?
"Nobody was calling for the economy to be shut down or for individual liberty to be curtailed as a means of solving the problem"
Aheadline from the New York Times on December 9 declared “‘There’s No Place for Them to Go’: I.C.U. Beds Near Capacity Across U.S.”
Entrepreneur Yinon Weiss investigated that headline’s claim by downloading national data from the US Department of Health and Human Services on hospital intensive care unit (ICU) capacity and graphing the data. Sharing the results on Twitter, he concluded that the headline is “another example of unnecessary fearmongering”. Here’s what the data showed average ICU capacity over time:
It was true that the occupancy of “COVID-19 cases” in hospitals had increased. Weiss reconciled this simply by observing that while cases labeled “COVID-19 cases” have increased, the proportion of non-COVID-19 cases has decreased by a corresponding amount. Here is what this looks like graphed:
Weiss suggested two explanations. The first is that people are going into the hospital for other reasons, getting a PCR test, and testing positive, and so they are being counted among “COVID-19 cases”. I discussed how PCR tests are being used to perpetrate institutionalized scientific fraud in my article “Facebook ‘Fact Check’ Lies about PCR Tests and COVID-19 ‘Cases’”. In short, many people who do not have COVID-19 are being included among the “case” counts due to positive tests that detected non-infectious SARS-CoV-2 RNA fragments.
The second explanation, relevant for ICU occupancy, is that COVID-19 patients are replacing flu patients. Indeed, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations within its Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network (FluSurv-NET) suggest either that the 2019 – 2020 flu season ended mysteriously early or that flu patients were not being counted as flu patients.
For example, during week twelve, there were 861 flu hospitalizations for 2017, 655 for 2018, and 1,402 for 2019, but just 364 for 2020. During week fifteen, there were 400 flu hospitalizations for 2017, 386 for 2018, and 521 for 2019, but just 16 for 2020.
The CDC is presently reporting that, for week fifty, or the week ending December 12, “Seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains lower than usual for this time of year.” The CDC inputs this data into a mathematical model to estimate cumulative season burden of influenza, but it’s now stating that “Reported flu hospitalizations are too low at this time to generate an estimate.”
Lab-confirmed influenza cases represent a small proportion of what are termed “influenza-like illnesses” (ILI), which are illnesses with flu-like symptoms that may be caused by something other than the influenza virus. Oftentimes, diagnoses of “the flu” are actually caused by any number of other viruses, which is why a lab test to detect the presence of the influenza virus is necessary to confirm an influenza diagnosis.
The CDC is also reporting that, through week fifty of this flu season, the percentage of visits for ILI reported by its Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet) is lower than for any of the prior five seasons. Here’s what that data look like:
The CDC has created a new category of illness termed “COVID-like illness” (CLI), and comparing its data on ILI with CLI also strongly suggests that many patients whose symptoms would normally be attributed to “flu” are being attributed to COVID-19. The CDC remarks, “This level of ILI is lower than is typical for ILINet during this time of year.” Here’s what that looks like:
Thus, it is certainly plausible if not probable that patients who are in the hospital for illness that would previously have been attributed to “flu” are being categorized as COVID-19 patients, which would help explain how hospital occupancy for COVID-19 patients has risen while total occupancy has remained relatively flat over time.
Weiss also noted, “You also have to compare to previous year baseline to get a sense of what’s normal.” He did so for hospitalization data from Los Angeles, California, showing that the city “is experiencing a surprisingly normal year at its major hospitals.” Here’s what that looked like:
He also remarks, “Are there some hospitals that may have high occupancy? Sure, and that’s not unusual. Even larger hospitals are historically used to surge conditions when they often happen in the winter.”
Indeed, nearly three years ago, during the 2017 – 2018 flu season, there were many reports in the media about hospitals around the US being overwhelmed with flu patients. Nobody was calling for the economy to be shut down or for individual liberty to be curtailed as a means of solving the problem. Here is a collection of some of those headlines along with quoted excerpts that are echoed in the media’s reporting this year on the state of US hospitals:
January 8, 2018, 1080 KRLD
“Methodist Dallas Medical Center’s emergency room is so overrun with flu cases that it is asking people with non-emergency symptoms to go to urgent care centers or see a primary care physician.”
“Texas isn’t the only place where flu cases are causing strain on hospital resources. In Southern California, emergency rooms had gone into ‘diversion mode,’ during which ambulances are sent to other hospitals.”
January 10, 2018, KHOU
“A Houston doctor says local hospital beds are at capacity and flu sufferers might be better off staying at home instead of hitting the clinics.”
January 11, 2018, The Texas Tribune
“Big-city hospitals in Texas have been overwhelmed this week by an influx of flu patients, and state health officials say influenza activity is widespread across the state.
“At Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, waiting rooms turned into exam areas as a medical tent was built in order to deal with the surge of patients. A Houston doctor said local hospital beds were at capacity, telling flu sufferers they might be better off staying at home. Austin’s emergency rooms have also seen an influx of flu patients.
“But high emergency room volumes and filled hospital beds are ‘not uncommon’ for this point during flu season, which runs from October to May, said Lara Anton of the Texas Department of State Health Services.”
January 11, 2018, Houston Public Media
“The flu is also taxing local hospital resources. Like available beds.
“‘Not all flu cases, but we’re at full capacity. But we’re continuing to do elective and emergency procedures unrelated to the flu, but the hospital is at full capacity,’ said Kovacik.”
January 12, 2018, Rare Houston
“Some local hospitals reportedly reached capacity, with flu patients occupying hundreds of hospital beds across the area.”
“The overcrowding of flu patients in hospitals is reportedly leading many patients to seek out care in clinics or emergency care facilities.”
January 15, 2018, STAT
“A tsunami of sick people has swamped hospitals in many parts of the country in recent weeks as a severe flu season has taken hold. In Rhode Island, hospitals diverted ambulances for a period because they were overcome with patients. In San Diego, a hospital erected a tent outside its emergency room to manage an influx of people with flu symptoms.
“Wait times at scores of hospitals have gotten longer.
“But if something as foreseeable as a flu season — albeit one that is pretty severe — is stretching health care to its limits, what does that tell us about the ability of hospitals to handle the next flu pandemic?”
“Osterholm noted that in the time since the 2009 pandemic, health care systems have been operating on ever-tighter margins, leaving them pressed to respond even to what are ordinary system stressors.
“‘Even before flu season struck here, our hospitals were struggling to cope,’ Duchin agreed. ‘We have hospitals that have large numbers of patients living in the hallways routinely. … Flu season comes and it all gets worse.’”
January 16, 2018, Los Angeles Times
“An influenza A strain known as H3N2 is making people so ill in California that thousands have shown up in recent weeks at hospitals struggling to fight the infection.”
“The huge numbers of sick people are also straining hospital staff who are confronting what could become California’s worst flu season in a decade.
“Hospitals across the state are sending away ambulances, flying in nurses from out of state and not letting children visit their loved ones for fear they’ll spread the flu. Others are canceling surgeries and erecting tents in their parking lots so they can triage the hordes of flu patients.”
“Staff members at Torrance Memorial Medical Center have been working long hours to care for a swell in sick patients that began in late December, said Dr. James McKinnell, infectious disease specialist. Some patients are incredibly ill with multiple strains of the flu, or the flu and pneumonia.
“‘There’s a little bit of a feeling of being in the trenches. we’re really battling these infections to try to get them under control,’ McKinnell said.”
“Connie Cunningham and her staff at Loma Linda University Medical Center were triaging so many flu patients after New Year’s that they assembled what looks like a giant, brown camping tent in their emergency room parking lot. Several hospitals in California are treating flu patients in so-called ‘surge tents’ intended for major disasters.”
“Many hospitals also say they’re too full to accept any more patients or ambulances.”
January 18, 2018, CNN
“‘Flu is everywhere in the US right now,’ said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDC’s influenza branch. ‘This is the first year we’ve had the entire continental US at the same level (of flu activity) at the same time.’”
“Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state public health emergency because of the flu on Thursday.
“Scott Harris, acting state health officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the influenza outbreak includes high activity throughout the state but particularly in metropolitan areas. This ‘crush’ means some hospitals are operating over capacity, leaving some patients sitting in ERs.”
January 18, 2018, TIME
“The 2017-2018 influenza epidemic is sending people to hospitals and urgent-care centers in every state, and medical centers are responding with extraordinary measures: asking staff to work overtime, setting up triage tents, restricting friends and family visits and canceling elective surgeries, to name a few.
“‘We are pretty much at capacity, and the volume is certainly different from previous flu seasons,’ says Dr. Alfred Tallia, professor and chair of family medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. ‘I’ve been in practice for 30 years, and it’s been a good 15 or 20 years since I’ve seen a flu-related illness scenario like we’ve had this year.’
“Tallia says his hospital is ‘managing, but just barely,’ at keeping up with the increased number of sick patients in the last three weeks. The hospital’s urgent-care centers have also been inundated, and its outpatient clinics have no appointments available.
“The story is similar in Alabama, which declared a state of emergency last week in response to the flu epidemic.”
“In California, which has been particularly hard hit by this season’s flu, several hospitals have set up large ‘surge tents’ outside their emergency departments to accommodate and treat flu patients. Even then, the LA Times reported this week, emergency departments had standing-room only, and some patients had to be treated in hallways.”
“‘The flu has especially affected hospital patients with other health issues, says Braciszewski, who works with cardiac patients. ‘Almost every patient in the hospital has the flu, and it’s making their pre-existing conditions worse,’ she says. ‘More and more patients are needing mechanical ventilation due to respiratory failure from the flu and other rampant upper respiratory infections.’”
February 2, 2018, New York Times
“By mid-January, the flu season at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest here in Allentown was bad enough to justify dragging out the ‘surge tent.’
“The Band Aid-colored structure in the parking lot — an inflatable military-style hospital ward a bit like a bouncy castle — is outfitted with cots, oxygen tanks and heart monitors.”
February 22, 2019, Healio
“Hospitals in the United States have implemented new policies based on last year’s severe influenza season, but infectious disease experts agree that America’s health care systems would still be seriously challenged by another bad influenza season.
“Tight resources and underfunding mean hospitals are ill prepared for ‘surge’ events, such as last year’s influenza season, they said.”
“‘Last season was the worst season we have had in many, many years,’ Infectious Disease News Editorial Board member William Schaffner, MD, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said in an interview. ‘Based on our local experience and my conversations with colleagues, it was my impression that hospitals were often very stretched during last year’s influenza season and that, on occasion, patients were backed up in emergency rooms.’
“Schaffner said hospital capacity across the country was ‘stretched but not broken,’ and most hospitals were able to manage because they had a pandemic preparedness plan in place.”
“The CDC noted that the estimated number of hospitalizations during the 2017-2018 influenza season exceeded the number of staffed hospital beds in the United States — 902,202.
“Other experts agreed with Schaffner’s assessment that hospital staff and preparedness levels have been stretched to the limit. Although this influenza season does not appear to be as severe as last year’s, experts agreed that U.S. hospitals and health care systems would again face major challenges if another severe influenza season were to occur. And hospitals may not be prepared for an influenza pandemic.”
Source: Jeremy R. Hammond