Nearly two months after COVID spike began, few Midwestern hospitals facing feared surge of patients

Just the News:

  • In Midwest, nearly eight weeks of spiking cases haven’t overwhelmed hospitals
  • Some hospitals nearing capacity, but COVID patients make up small percentage.

Nearly two months after COVID-19 cases began surging in the Midwest, most hospitals there appear to be handling the spike without major issues. Some hospitals in the region are nearing capacity, but none appear to be receiving a crushing wave of COVID patients after around seven weeks of sharply increasing positive tests. 

Hospitalization rates have for several months been one of the key metrics by which public health experts and commentators assess the state of the pandemic in the U.S. Global fears of overburdened medical systems began in March as the world witnessed parts of Italy’s healthcare system strain and nearly break under a massive influx of COVID-19 patients.

In the U.S. and in other countries earlier in the year, health care administrators worked aggressively to add surge capacity in hospitals and medical facilities, hoping to avoid the chaos witnessed in certain Italian regions and in other parts of Europe.

Many leaders, meanwhile — including a majority of U.S. governors — announced an open-ended moratorium on what were deemed “non-essential” medical procedures, including cancer screenings and other early interventions, in an effort to ensure hospital space would be free for the expected influx of COVID patients.

Concerns about a crush of COVID patients were raised anew in early September, when many Midwestern states began seeing significant rises in the numbers of confirmed coronavirus infections. 

Yet state-level data indicate that, with the exception of some facilities, most hospitals in that region remain below capacity, even as average COVID cases have soared far above the numbers seen over the summer. 

In Iowa, for instance, the state has around 3,100 hospital beds available, with a little over 60% of statewide capacity currently being utilized. Yet the state’s coronavirus dashboard says just 12% of total statewide inpatients — 564 as of Wednesday afternoon — were infected with COVID-19, meaning COVID inpatients could theoretically triple there without overwhelming state capacity. 

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