Hospitals in the US are more crowded than they have been during the entire pandemic — but it’s not just Covid

Hospitals in the US are more crowded than they have been during the entire pandemic — but it’s not just Covid


According to CNN’s analysis of data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, hospitals are fuller than they have been during the entire Covid-19 pandemic. But as respiratory virus season ramps up across the U.S., much more than Covid is filling beds this year.

More than 80% of hospital beds are in use across the country, an increase of 8 percentage points over the past two weeks.

Hospitals have been required to report capacity information since mid-2020 as part of federal efforts to monitor the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hospitals were more than 70% full most of that time. But they were only 80% full at one other time: in January, during Omicron’s peak in the US. In January, about a quarter of hospital beds were used for patients with Covid-19. But now only about 6% of beds are being used for Covid-19 patients, according to HHS data.

The broader respiratory virus season is in full swing across the US. All but six states have a “high” or “very high” respiratory virus as seasonal flu activity remains “high and continues to increase,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of people admitted to the hospital for the flu during Thanksgiving week was nearly double the number of admissions the week before. The most recent surveillance data likely does not reflect the full effects of holiday gatherings, as they only cover Nov. 26, two days after Thanksgiving.

Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety at the American Hospital Association, says the influx of flu patients is a key reason hospitals are filling up.

“The rates are higher because we’re seeing a lot of patients with the flu season in many parts of the country and that’s put a lot of elderly people and some young children in hospitals,” she said in a statement to CNN. “In addition, RSV fills many pediatric beds and cribs.”

On top of that, challenges have been caused by a lack of manpower and the large number of patients who have deferred care over the past few years.

“Patients whose care may have been delayed earlier in the year either because of the surge in Covid or because of critical staff or supplies are now being treated,” Foster said. “Workforce shortages have not only made hospitals more challenging, but also reduced the number of patients who can be cared for in nursing homes and other post-acute care facilities. Therefore, patients spend more time in hospitals, waiting for discharge to the next level of care and limiting our ability to make a bed available to a patient who really needs to be hospitalized.”

In a letter to state governors last week, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra noted that influenza and other respiratory viruses are “increasing pressure” on the nation’s health care systems. Becerra wrote that the Biden administration “stands ready to continue to assist you with resources, supplies and personnel” — but did not issue a formal emergency declaration, as requested by Children’s Health leaders last month.

Hospital bed capacity can change from day to day, as hospitals adjust the number of beds they make available based on staffing and other resources.

As of Thursday, about 10% of hospitals are reporting “critical staff shortages.” More than 90% of hospital beds are occupied in Rhode Island, and more than 85% of beds are filled in eight other states: Washington, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Georgia, Missouri, West Virginia and Oregon.

Pediatric hospital beds have been fuller than usual for months. About 76% of pediatric hospital beds are in use, which is an increase compared to the average occupancy of about two-thirds in recent years.

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