Confronting COVID-19’s Highest Peak Yet

This week, the number of U.S. patients hospitalized with COVID-19 surged beyond 73,000, the highest level recorded since the start of the pandemic. More than 14,000 COVID-19 patients are currently being treated in intensive care units, the highest number since April, while more than 1,100 COVID-related deaths were reported on Nov. 17. All told, more than 11 million Americans have now been infected with COVID-19 since the outset of the pandemic, including 1 million in just the last week.

Axios reports that the current wave in cases has hit rural areas particularly hard, and hospitals from Iowa to Texas are nearing capacity. Some health systems have begun delaying some elective procedures again to free up space.

The surging caseloads are leading to a return of many of the staffing and supply challenges that providers first faced with this spring. Twenty-two percent of hospitals are now facing a staffing shortage, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, and many hospitals are scrambling to hire full-time or temporary clinicians. On a national level, there are even concerns that stockpiled supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) may be inadequate.

The last few days have brought more promising long-term news, as both Moderna and Pfizer have released preliminary data from vaccine trials estimating effectiveness rates north of 90 percent. Numerous states and cities have also issued new stay-at-home advisories and mask mandates in recent days, in a bid to help control the spread of the virus prior to the holiday season.

But with widespread distribution of vaccines still months away, and the impact of the new restrictions still unclear, hospitals will continue to confront the highest peak of the pandemic – and a rapidly evolving outlook – in their communities for some time to come.


In Brief