Hospitals Experiencing a COVID Crunch

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Virginia. Source: Virginia Department of Health

The media is full of stories about how the rebound in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant is putting hospitals under the most stress since the peak of the epidemic in February. Hospitals are rapidly filling up. Some are reporting shortages of beds, others of staff. Making matters worse, hospitals from other states, also inundated by COVID, are so desperate they are poaching nurses from Virginia.

In no way do I minimize the current challenges facing hospitals. But it is important to maintain clarity about what’s going on. Hospitals are not feeling a crunch because hospitalizations have reached the same level as during the peak. You can see clearly in the graph above that hospitalizations are running about one-third the level of February. 

Here’s what’s happening: hospitals were caught by surprise by the sudden resurgence. Last year, they’d cleared the deck by deferring discretionary medical procedures and setting aside beds. They’re feeling a crunch now because hospital beds are filled with non-COVID patients.

If they haven’t already, hospitals will begin to curtail discretionary admissions. As non-COVID patients are released, beds will be freed up and, hopefully, the stress will ease.

The situation bears close watching, though. There is no sign of let-up in the increase of confirmed cases. The Delta mutation is burning its way through the still-significant percentage of the population that has neither been vaccinated nor acquired natural immunity.