'The equivalent of a bus accident a day, every day'

According to the White House, "a lot" of recent hospitalizations "aren’t pertaining to COVID." There's some powerful evidence to the contrary.
Image: Medical Workers Inside Maryland Hospital Work During Coronavirus Pandemic
Radiologists prepare to take an x-ray image in a COVID-19 patient's room in the intensive care unit of MedStar St. Mary's Hospital on April 14, 2020 in Leonardtown, Md.Win McNamee / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

During a briefing yesterday, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany about the sharp increase in American hospitalizations as the pandemic crisis intensifies. Donald Trump's chief spokesperson acknowledged the trend, but suggested the coronavirus is just part of a larger issue.

"[A] lot of hospitalizations aren’t pertaining to COVID," McEneny argued. The reporter, sounding an incredulous note, asked, "So the growth in hospitalizations is not because of COVID?" The White House press secretary replied, "Well, a lot of it is elective surgeries and other surgeries that have opened up."

There are public-health officials who can speak to this with far more authority than I can, but the idea that hospitalization numbers can be chalked up to "elective surgeries" right now is tough to accept at face value. In fact, the latest reporting from the New York Times points in a more obvious direction.

As states across the American South and West grapple with shortages of vital testing equipment and a key antiviral drug, hospitals are being flooded with coronavirus patients, forcing them to cancel elective surgeries and discharge patients early, and doctors worry that the escalating hospital crunch may last much longer than in earlier-hit areas like New York. Even as regular wards are being converted into intensive care units and long-term care facilities open for patients still too sick to go home, doctors say they are barely managing.

The article quoted John Sinnott, chairman of internal medicine at the University of South Florida and chief epidemiologist at Tampa General Hospital, explaining, “When hospitals and health care assistants talk about surge capacity, they’re often talking about a single event. But what we’re having now is the equivalent of a bus accident a day, every day, and it just keeps adding.”

The Times added that 43 intensive care units in 21 Florida counties "have hit capacity and have no beds available." In Mississippi, "five of the state’s largest hospitals have already run out of I.C.U. beds for critical patients."

At the Texas Medical Center hospitals in Houston, the average daily rate of new COVID-19 hospitalizations has nearly doubled over the last two weeks.

Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, president and chief executive officer of the county’s two-hospital public health system, told the Times, “The hospitals are full. We have been over capacity for a couple of weeks.”

For the White House to confront these crises, blame "elective surgeries," and argue that "a lot of hospitalizations aren’t pertaining to COVID," seems outrageous, even by Team Trump's standards.