Hospitals across the southern United States are reporting dramatic surges in coronavirus patients, forcing some to close their emergency rooms and others to treat more patients than they have capacity for as the delta variant of the virus continues to wreak havoc on regions with large swaths of unvaccinated residents.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on Monday said the state had “very startling” figures showing the largest, single-day increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began. He said state hospitals had just eight beds in the ICU left for severely ill patients.
In Louisiana, an epicenter of the current wave, hospitalizations were climbing at the fastest rate since the pandemic started. Last week, the head of the state’s largest hospital described recent weeks as the “darkest” thus far, saying doctors were no longer able to provide patients adequate care under a crush in admissions.
“When you come inside our walls, it is quite obvious to you that these are the darkest days of this pandemic,” Dr. Catherine O’Neal, who runs the Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, said last Monday.
O’Neal added later that week that dozens of children and young adults were now in the hospital, a reality that’s new under the delta variant. Half of the 12 children admitted were under the age of 2, The Advocate reported.
“We never saw that last year. That’s you,” she said in a video message. “Those are people who act and look just like you and they were living their normal lives two weeks ago. This delta variant is going to affect us all very differently.”
Florida reported similar circumstances, with many hospitals over capacity. The Wall Street Journal reported that at least 43% of the state’s intensive care beds are filled with coronavirus patients, prompting complex logistical issues as hospital workers race to find space for a tide of sick residents.
And in Texas several hospitals said they were closing their emergency rooms due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, directing patients elsewhere.
The delta variant has upended the country’s reopening plans, prompting cities and states nationwide to reinstate social distancing measures and mask mandates that were relaxed just months ago and meant to usher in an era of relative freedom. Now, COVID-19 cases are rising in every state in the U.S. and hit the highest levels this week since February, averaging more than 100,000 a day.
Many of the states with the biggest outbreaks have some of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates and are led by Republican governors and legislatures that have made it much more difficult to protect their citizens. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has banned vaccine passports and mask mandates for some businesses and schools. Arkansas’ Hutchinson said he made an error when he barred new mask mandates in April, and Texas’ Greg Abbott (R) has faced revolt from some school districts who have threatened to sue over his order to ban mask mandates.
Vaccines are the best way to prevent severe cases of illness or death associated with COVID-19, and almost all of the country’s coronavirus fatalities are among unvaccinated people. But public health officials have expressed alarm that children could be susceptible amid a dual threat of the more infectious delta strain and the fact that the nation’s vaccines are only approved for those 12 and over.
It’s unclear if the delta variant causes more severe illness than previous strains, but more kids are winding up in the hospital.
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