The number of patients diagnosed with Covid-19 in US hospitals has topped 100 000. Another anti-coronavirus pandemic record underscores the depth and power of the second wave of the pandemic in the USA. Janice Orlowski of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) believes that no other disease has struck so many US citizens at once in the country’s history.
“I don’t think we have ever had this many patients,” she told CNBC, “not with AIDS, not with any other new disease. It’s an astonishing statistic! The frustrating thing is we could have prevented these numbers, but we did”.
This week, the AAMS had already urged the US public health system to prepare for an emergency operating mode, which is used for extreme events such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks or natural disasters on a national scale.
The main goal of operating in such a mode, Orlowski says, is to “provide the best possible care and treatment for the enormous number of patients with the resources available.” Translated into plain language, that means having to make very difficult decisions about how to allocate those resources. Simply put, health professionals have to choose who to treat and who not to treat.
Individual hospitals in some states, such as El Paso, Texas, are already operating in this mode. In a couple of weeks, most American hospitals will have to work in this emergency mode. Unless, of course, the coronavirus spreads better, and even worse, which is likely, given the recent Thanksgiving.
The situation is complicated by the need to do something about elective surgery, which already had to be postponed and rescheduled in the spring, during the first wave of the pandemic. Most hospitals resumed doing surgeries as usual during the summer, but the situation worsened again in autumn with the sudden influx of Covid-19 patients. A couple of months ago, in early autumn, when operations started being postponed again, it was hoped that patients would have to wait until winter. However, the strength of the second wave suggests that the wait will be longer, which means that not all patients will wait for surgery.
According to Megan Ranney, director of the Center for Digital Health at Brown University in Rhode Island, which has about a thousand hospital beds, they now have a very severe shortage not only of beds but also of medical staff. She says that the training she has received from working in East Africa has helped her work in this kind of emergency.
We were under pressure,” Dr Ranney admitted a few days ago, “We barely made it through the first week of spring and now we have to face the horror again. Sometimes there is a feeling of utter hopelessness, which is reinforced by the fact that we see no sign of improvement.
Nevertheless, Megan Ranney and her colleagues are not about to give up. Especially now that there is a ray of light, however faint, at the end of the tunnel. Ranney, along with all U.S. physicians and medical professionals from many other countries, is waiting for a vaccine and for mass vaccination to begin.