Covid Live Updates: Strained Massachusetts Hospitals to Reduce Elective Procedures

ImageA Covid ward at a hospital in Worcester, Mass., in January.
Credit…Photo by Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Hospitals in Massachusetts will cut back on nonurgent scheduled procedures starting on Monday because of staffing shortages and longer patient hospital stays, according to the state’s health authorities.

Coronavirus cases have been rising in Massachusetts for several weeks, but hospitalizations have risen at a lower rate. The pressure on hospitals relates to other consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, the authorities said.

The staffing shortage, largely driven by the pandemic, has contributed to the loss of approximately 500 medical, surgical and I.C.U. hospital beds in Massachusetts, according to the state. And hospitals are seeing an influx of patients who need more complex treatment for health issues because they delayed visiting the doctor when Covid cases were higher.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data. Currently hospitalized is the most recent number of patients with Covid-19 reported by hospitals in the state for the four days prior. Dips and spikes could be due to inconsistent reporting by hospitals. Hospitalization numbers early in the pandemic are undercounts due to incomplete reporting by hospitals to the federal government.

The order, issued on Tuesday, applies to hospitals that have less than 15 percent of beds available, and applies only to procedures that are scheduled in advance and can be delayed without having a negative effect on patients’ health. It does not apply to urgent and essential procedures.

The authorities said the order would help prepare for the annual increase in hospitalizations typically seen after Thanksgiving and through January.

Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said in a statement on Tuesday: “Covid hospitalizations in Massachusetts remain lower than almost every other state in the nation, but the challenges the health care system face remain, and this order will ensure hospitals can serve all residents, including those who require treatment for Covid-19.”

In Massachusetts, new cases have risen from an average of about 1,300 early this month to more than 2,800, and hospitalizations are up 47 percent over the past 14 days, according to a New York Times database. As of Wednesday morning, 740 people were hospitalized for Covid-19, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

State officials worked with the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association to develop the guidelines. Dr. Eric Dickson, the board chair of the association and the president and C.E.O. of UMass Memorial Health, said in a statement: “While we recognize that delaying some prescheduled surgeries may present a significant hardship for patients, we believe it is a necessary step to assure that all of the Commonwealth’s hospitals can continue to meet the needs of patients requiring emergency care.”

Credit…Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press

The burden on national health systems in Europe from Covid will be “very high,” in December and January unless governments ramp up prevention efforts, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control warned on Wednesday.

European governments should accelerate their vaccination rates, administer booster shots and reintroduce restrictions, Andrea Ammon, the E.C.D.C. director said in a statement. “And all those three things have to be done now,” she said. “This is not pick and choose.”

Around 66 percent of the European Union’s total population has been fully inoculated, according to the E.C.D.C. data. This leaves “a large vaccination gap that cannot be bridged rapidly and gives ample room for the virus to spread,” Ms. Ammon said.

Recommended restrictions could include wearing face masks, working from home, keeping a safe distance and reducing social interactions. Lockdowns are like an “emergency brake,” Ms. Ammon said, used when “you want to bring down a very high case number in a short period of time.”

She added: “I am aware that it requires a significant effort from public health authorities and society at large to achieve this goal. But now is the time to walk the extra mile.”

Asked whether seasonal festivities should be canceled, Ms. Ammon replied: “We still have some time until Christmas. But if the situation doesn’t get better, it might mean that these measures should be taken over Christmas as well.”

On Wednesday, Italy announced new restrictions for the unvaccinated, barring them from dining indoors in restaurants and bars; attending shows, sport events and public ceremonies; and entering nightclubs.

The E.C.D.C. also recommended that booster doses should be “considered” for all adults, with a priority given to those above 40 years old. On Tuesday, Italy allowed vaccinated people to get a booster shot five months after the second shot of their initial vaccination. On Wednesday, Portugal’s health secretary said the country would give booster shots to a quarter of its population by the end of January, Reuters reported.

Europe has seen a sharp spike in the number of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths in recent weeks, prompting governments to impose new restrictions, including a lockdown in Austria, one of the first in Western Europe since vaccines became available. The German health minister, Jens Spahn, warned on Monday that by the end of this winter “just about everyone in Germany will probably be either vaccinated, recovered or dead.”

According to the World Health Organization, Europe accounted for more than half of the world’s reported Covid deaths this months, and more than two million new cases each week, the most since the pandemic began. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said that Covid had become the leading cause of death in Europe, and that Europe’s Covid death toll would likely exceed two million by next spring.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of Europeans across the continent protested, sometimes violently, against vaccine mandates and new restrictions, and on Wednesday, more than 1,000 people protested .

There are very high discrepancies in vaccination rates between different European countries. Only 24 percent of the total population in Bulgaria has been fully inoculated, contrasted with 81 percent in Portugal. But as vaccinated people can also transmit the disease, the E.C.D.C. said, it is important to put in place restrictions even in countries with high inoculation rates.

Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Over eight hours last Thursday night and into Friday morning, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California hit on many issues as he spoke on the House floor in an unsuccessful effort to thwart House passage of President Biden’s social safety net and climate change bill. But among his most audacious assertions was that Mr. Biden was to blame for the country’s failure to quell the pandemic.

Mr. McCarthy used this line of attack even as members of his own Republican Party have spent months flouting mask ordinances and blocking the president’s vaccine mandates, and the party’s base has undermined vaccination drives while rallying around those who refuse the vaccine. Intensive care units and morgues have been strained to capacity by the unvaccinated, a demographic dominated by those who voted last year for President Donald J. Trump.

As of mid-September, 90 percent of adult Democrats had been vaccinated, compared with 58 percent of adult Republicans.

Yet Mr. McCarthy, the House Republican leader, pressed his point: “I took President Biden at his word; I took him at his word when he said he was going to get Covid under control,” he declared in the dead of night. “Unfortunately, more Americans have died this year than last year under Covid.”

As cases surges once again in some parts of the country, Republicans have hit on a new line of attack: The president has failed on a central campaign promise, to tame the pandemic that his predecessor systematically downplayed. Democrats are incredulous.

Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called House Republicans “Covid’s biggest promoter” for “recklessly hand-waving lifesaving vaccines” and for promoting ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug falsely said to cure Covid-19.

The nation’s 14-day average…

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