With the coronavirus spreading out of control in many parts of the United States and daily case counts setting records, health experts say it is only a matter of time before hospitals start to reach the breaking point.
In some places, it is already happening.
There are more than 41,000 Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the United States, a 40 percent rise in the past month. And unlike during the earlier months of the pandemic, more of those patients are being cared for not in metropolitan regions but in more sparsely populated parts of the country, where the medical infrastructure is less robust.
In Utah last week, hospital administrators sent a grim warning to Gov. Gary Herbert that they would soon be forced to ration access to their rapidly filling intensive-care units, and requested approval for criteria to decide which patients should get priority, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“We told him, ‘It looks like we’re going to have to request those be activated if this trend continues,’ and we see no reason why it won’t,” the paper quoted Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association, as saying.
Skeptics need only look at places like Kansas City, Mo., where this month medical centers turned away ambulances because they had no room for more patients. And in Idaho, a hospital that was 99 percent full warned last week that it may have to transfer coronavirus patients to hospitals as far away as Seattle and Portland, Ore.
Hospitals in hard-hit parts of the country are resorting to a tactic commonly used during the pandemic as it eats away at medical resources: limiting their services.
In Tennessee on Saturday, the Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia suspended all elective procedures requiring an overnight stay to make room for Covid-19 patients. Most of the facility’s 26 I.C.U. beds are already filled.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said an emergency care site would be set up this week in El Paso, where public health officials on Sunday again issued a plea for residents to stay home for two weeks to help curb the rapidly rising number of virus infections.
In places like Milwaukee and Salt Lake City, field hospitals are being opened.