COVID Bed Check

California has passed the 25,000 mark for COVID deaths:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California surpassed 25,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic and officials disclosed Thursday that three more cases involving a mutant variant of the virus have been confirmed in San Diego County.

The grim developments came as an ongoing surge swamps hospitals and pushes nurses and doctors to the breaking point as they brace for another likely increase after the holidays.

Politico noted a few days ago that California, which has tried to impose some of the most stringent lockdowns in the nation, is not doing so well. This paragraph especially jumps out:

America’s most populous state has become one of the nation’s worst epicenters for the disease, setting new records for cases, hospitalizations and deaths almost every day. Things are so bad in Southern California that some patients are being treated in hospital tents, while doctors have begun discussing whether they need to ration care.

I don’t doubt that hospitals are badly strained at the moment. But is this really unprecedented? Check out this Los Angeles Times story from January 2018:

California hospitals face a ‘war zone’ of flu patients — and are setting up tents to treat them

. . . The huge numbers of sick people are also straining hospital staff who are confronting what could become California’s worst flu season in a decade.

Hospitals across the state are sending away ambulances, flying in nurses from out of state and not letting children visit their loved ones for fear they’ll spread the flu. Others are canceling surgeries and erecting tents in their parking lots so they can triage the hordes of flu patients. . .  Many hospitals also say they’re too full to accept any more patients or ambulances.

Or have a look at the situation in Britain over the last decade, as compiled from Guardian headlines:

Of course, in Britain’s nationalized health care (ditto Canada) rationing of scare resources is par for the course. And American hospitals don’t like to devote too much of their space and resources for expensive ICU beds that would sit mostly empty in ordinary times if we built them out for peak capacity of flu season or any other cause.

Perhaps in addition to a different strategy for fighting the spread of the virus, we ought to think about how we manage surge capacity in our hospitals. A pandemic is only one reason we might need more resilient capabilities. The experience with COVID is not reassuring for our ability to deal with a mass casualty terrorist attack.

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