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US COVID Hospitalization Rate Tops 100,000, Highest Since Winter’s Peaks

High hospitalization rates have led hospitals to be overwhelmed and short on vital supplies like oxygen.

A Houston Fire Department EMS medics disinfect a stretcher after delivering a patient to a Covid-19 overflow area at Memorial Herman Northeast Hospital on August 19, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have topped a two-week average of 100,000, according to the New York Times. This is the highest rate of hospitalizations due to COVID recorded in the U.S. since last winter, when rates reached record highs.

As mask mandates and restrictions have lifted over the past months, hospitalizations have increased exponentially. They reached lows in June, but in July, they began rising again. Over the course of about two months, average hospitalization rates went from a one-week average of around 17,000 to over 100,000.

The highest COVID hospitalization rates recorded in the pandemic so far occurred in January 2021, following the winter holidays. Over 137,000 people were hospitalized on average then.

Fortunately, however, infections seem to be slowing down. While hospitalizations have been rising steadily, the number of cases appears to be reaching a peak. But the U.S. isn’t in the clear yet — deaths due to COVID are still on the rise, reaching new highs after rates had dipped early in the summer.

High hospitalization rates have been overwhelming hospitals across the country. In some places, especially at large hospitals serving urban areas, they have been forced to transfer COVID patients to facilities in other towns, sometimes far away, to receive care. In Southern states with low vaccination rates, meanwhile, hospitals are running out of oxygen.

“Normally, an oxygen tank would be about 90% full, and the suppliers would let them get down to a refill level of 30-40% left in their tank, giving them a three- to five-day cushion of supply,” Donna Cross, senior director of facilities and construction for health care improvement company Premier, told CNN. “What’s happening now is that hospitals are running down to about 10-20%, which is a one- to two-day supply on hand, before they’re getting backfilled.”

Supply issues and shortages have especially become a problem in Florida, where the pandemic is worse than it ever has been. Since the end of July and through August, hospitalizations nearly tripled as the Delta variant ripped through the state. Overall, Florida is doing worse than nearly every other state on several metrics, with the highest number of cases and highest number of people hospitalized per 100,000, at 106 and 77, respectively.

The situation is so dire that the mayor of Orlando had to ask residents to conserve water so that the city could keep supplying oxygen to patients. Despite all of it, though, Gov. Ron DeSantis has been holding firm against vaccine and mask mandates, causing his approval ratings to plummet.

High hospitalization numbers across the U.S. are particularly concerning because they are happening despite over half of the country being fully vaccinated, suggesting that the cases would be even higher if there were no vaccines to inoculate against the virus. Researchers in July found that the U.S.’s vaccine campaign has saved around 279,000 lives and prevented about 1.25 million people from being hospitalized.

Indeed, cases have risen precipitously since rates of vaccination slowed and politicians began lifting mask and social distancing mandates. Vaccines are being administered at a rate of about 886,000 doses a day, down from averages of over 3 million earlier this year. Meanwhile, as of the beginning of July, all states except for Hawaii had fully reopened, and only a handful of states have reimplemented COVID guidelines.

Researchers are saying that they expect over 100,000 more deaths due to COVID from August to December 1 if the pandemic continues as it has been, largely unabated among the unvaccinated save for some places that have reimplemented mask mandates. One hundred thousand deaths was once deemed by the New York Times to be “an incalculable loss,” but now the U.S. approaches a new grim milestone as it nears 640,000 deaths — and counting.