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Hospitals in the US are the fullest they’ve been throughout the pandemic — but it’s not just Covid

SweetLeMonTea OwO/Adobe Stock 08 Dec 22

Originally Published: 08 DEC 22 13:19 ET

Updated: 08 DEC 22 14:24 ET

By Deidre McPhillips, CNN

    (CNN) -- Hospitals are more full than they've been throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a CNN analysis of data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. But as respiratory virus season surges across the US, it's much more than Covid that's filling beds this year.

More than 80% of hospital beds are in use nationwide, jumping 8 percentage points in the past two weeks.

Hospitals have been required to report capacity information since mid-2020 as part of a federal effort to track the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hospitals have been more than 70% full for the vast majority of that time. But they've been 80% full at only one other point: in January, during the height of the Omicron surge in the US.

The broader respiratory virus season is in full swing across the US. All but six states are experiencing "high" or "very high" respiratory virus as seasonal flu activity remains "high and continues to increase," according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of people admitted to the hospital for flu during the week of Thanksgiving was nearly double the number of admissions during the week before. And the latest surveillance data probably does not reflect the full effects of holiday gatherings, as it captures only through November 26, two days past Thanksgiving.

Back in January, about a quarter of hospital beds were in use for Covid-19 patients. But now, only about 6% of beds are in use for Covid-19 patients, according to the HHS data.

In a letter to the nation's governors last week, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra noted that flu and other respiratory viruses are "increasing strain" on the country's health care systems. Becerra wrote that the Biden administration "stands ready to continue assisting you with resources, supplies, and personnel" -- but he stopped short of making a formal emergency declaration, as requested by children's health leaders last month.

Hospital bed capacity can change day to day, as hospitals adjust the number of beds they make available based on staffing and other resources.

As of Thursday, about 10% of hospitals are reporting a "critical staff shortage." More than 90% of hospital beds are in use in Rhode Island, and more than 85% of beds are full in eight other states: Washington, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Georgia, Missouri, West Virginia and Oregon.

Pediatric hospital beds also have been more full than usual for months. About 76% of pediatric hospital beds are in use, up from an average of about two-thirds full in recent years.

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