WEST ALLIS, Wisconsin – A hospital in Idaho is 99% full and warns it may need to transfer coronavirus patients to hospitals in Seattle and Portland, Oregon. Kansas City, Missouri, medical centers turned down ambulances a recent day because they didn’t have room for more patients. And in West Allis, just outside Milwaukee, an emergency field hospital erected on the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair admitted its first patient with the virus this week.
More than 41,000 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in the United States, a 40% increase over the past month, and cooler weather that pushes more people indoors threatens to spread the epidemic even further. At least 14 states saw more people hospitalized with the virus on any day last week than on any other day in the pandemic, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Seven more states are nearing their peaks.
The country has seen more people hospitalized at earlier times – in an attack of cases in New York in April and in the Sun Belt in July – but the surging number is now deeply worrying, in part because they test the limits of smaller hospital systems.
Patients are now spread more widely across the country, with troubling hot spots from North Dakota to Kentucky. More people than ever are falling seriously ill in rural areas, especially the Midwest and Mountain West, where they have to rely on hospitals that have only a handful of beds. And experts fear the growing number of people in need of hospital care will only get worse if cases continue to rise.
“I really don’t see any signs that things are slowing down and that concerns me a lot,” said Caitlin M. Rivers, epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “We have to assume that it won’t slow down unless we force it to slow down.”
Even though hospitalizations and known cases of the virus have increased, daily deaths across the country have remained fairly stable at around 760 in recent days. But some experts fear the death rate will start to rise again. Increases in deaths typically lag behind increases in cases and hospitalizations due to the time it takes for the virus to progress.
In mid-July, Montana was far from the fast-moving Covid-19 outbreaks that were overwhelming other states, reporting about 150 new cases a day. It is now a national hot spot.
The coronavirus is triggering more than 900 cases a day in Montana, health officials say, driven in large part by people fed up with face masks, as well as a resurgence of weddings, parties and other social gatherings. The state, which has one of the highest rates of infection in the U.S., has surpassed 25,000 cases and 275 deaths.
“I think a lot of it is people got tired of not having their regular life,” said John Felton, the health officer in Yellowstone County, where officials say the number of hospital patients requiring intensive care now exceeds the county’s 41 ICU beds.
Montana and other Rocky Mountain states are the latest region to get swept up by a surge in Covid-19 cases, which are nearing or at peak levels in Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. New patients have left hospital beds in short supply, and state officials have renewed efforts to slow the spread.
So far, deaths from Covid-19 haven’t risen significantly across the region, but the wave of cases likely foreshadows an uptick similar to other outbreaks across the U.S., public-health officials said.