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Hospital beds full, National Guard deployed amid crushing delta wave

A nurse in the ICU looks into a COVID patient's room filled with flowers and balloons at CentraCare St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn., on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.
Enlarge / A nurse in the ICU looks into a COVID patient’s room filled with flowers and balloons at CentraCare St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn., on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

The wave of COVID-19 driven by the hypertransmissible delta variant continues to rampage through the US, with hospitals in Northeastern and Midwestern states now being crushed by a deluge of patients.

One of Pennsylvania’s largest health systems, Geisinger, announced Wednesday that it was overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated patients and running at 110 percent. Geisinger CEO Jaewon Ryu told the Associated Press that he only expects the situation to worsen in the coming weeks as case counts and test positivity continue to rise in the state.

Meanwhile, New York and Maine have deployed members of the National Guard to their health systems overburdened by COVID-19 cases, which are largely in people who are not fully vaccinated.

“I do not take this action lightly, but we must take steps to alleviate the strain on our health care system and ensure care for all those who need it,” Maine Governor Janet Mills said in a statement.

Andrew Mueller, CEO of health system MaineHealth, applauded “[the deployment] at a time when COVID-19 is spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated,” but added a note that a grim outlook remains. The assistance “will be helpful,” he said, “though we remain challenged by the current surge and urge everyone to get vaccinated or get a booster if eligible.”

In a news conference Wednesday, New Hampshire Gov. Christopher Sununu announced that the state had called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to help with “some staffing assistance in our health care facilities, preparing for the winter surge.”

New Hampshire has the highest case rates per 100,000 in the country currently, and hospitalizations have risen 24 percent in the past two weeks.

Nationwide, cases are up 27 percent over two weeks, with average daily cases above 120,000, according to tracking by The New York Times. Hospitalizations are also rising nationwide, with a 20 percent increase over two weeks to the current daily average of nearly 62,000.

New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Vermont have the highest rates of new cases per 100,000 in the country. Meanwhile, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Missouri, and Washington, DC, are seeing the sharpest rises in cases.

For hospitalizations, Michigan, Ohio, Arizona, Indiana, and Pennsylvania have the highest rates of people hospitalized with COVID-19. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Illinois have the sharpest rises in hospitalizations.

Though much media coverage has shifted focus to the potential threat of the omicron coronavirus variant, the current devastating surge in the US is almost entirely driven by the delta variant.

“We should remember that 99.9 percent of cases in the country right now are from the Delta variant,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press briefing last Friday. “Delta continues to drive cases across the country, especially in those who are unvaccinated.”

Dozens of states have now detected omicron cases, and the variant appears able to outspread delta and may evade more immune defenses from vaccination and previous infection. Omicron spread remarkably quickly in South Africa and is beginning rapid spread in some other countries, including Denmark and the United Kingdom. But, much about omicron remains uncertain. And, with delta transmission still soaring in the US and other population differences, it’s still unclear how omicron will behave here.

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