Almost three years into the pandemic, hospitals in the United States are currently fuller than they were for much of 2020, including during the earliest days of COVID-19, an NBC News analysis found.
It's hard to imagine, but since late November and early December 2022, inpatient beds at U.S. hospitals have been about 80% full, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been keeping records on this matter for over 980 days. The omicron wave in late 2020 and early 2021 had hospitals in the mid-70s in terms of percent of beds occupied, but that was the fullest period the U.S. had seen prior to Nov. 30, 2022.
On Nov. 30, U.S. hospital beds were 80.5% full. Since then, the lowest that stat has dropped to was 77.4% on Dec. 5.
"When you think about some of the winter and spring omicron surges, where it was just going crazy and we had 100,000-plus cases, a million cases a day, we have higher hospitalizations now, which is mind boggling," Dr. Kavita Patel, NBC News medical contributor, said during a Dec. 12 segment on TODAY.
This new wave of illness is being driven not just by COVID-19 but also influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.
New daily COVID cases and deaths have ticked up about 50% and 12% respectively in the past two weeks, but no states are reporting that more than 8% of their hospitalizations are due to COVID-19. Flu hospitalizations rose 32% and new cases rose 64% from last week's report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu hospital admissions are the highest they've been in a decade.
What's more, for the 2022-2023 flu season, the U.S. has already surpassed the total number of flu cases and deaths seen in the entire previous season.
“This year’s flu season is off to a rough start,” Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, board chair of the American Medical Association, said at a CDC briefing on Dec. 5. “Flu is here. It started early, and with COVID and RSV also circulating, it’s a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season.”
Meanwhile, RSV, which usually only sickens young children and older adults, is still causing illness across the country. While cases are dropping, they're still higher than they've been at any point since mid-December 2020, according to CDC data. And experts have told TODAY.com that RSV doesn't typically peak until January.
RSV by state
RSV, a virus that primarily affects kids and older adults, has been making headlines over the past few weeks because it's been causing severe illness at unprecedented levels. Several doctors have told TODAY.com that they've never seen such a high number of kids who've required so much medical intervention due to the virus.
While CDC data shows cases nationally are trending downward, cases of RSV by state are another story. CDC director Rochelle Walensky said at the Dec. 5 briefing that RSV cases have peaked in the South and Southeast, and plateaued in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and Midwest.
But California hospitals are still feeling stressed, the Los Angeles Times reported. And state-level RSV data gathered by the CDC show that 10 states saw increases the week of Dec. 3 based on either PCR or antigen tests reported, or both. (The CDC gathers the five-week average of detected RSV cases per week for most states.) These are:
- New Jersey
On a national level, cases of RSV are still higher than they were in early October, when children’s hospitals first started to feel the strain of the surge, as TODAY.com reported at the time. What’s more, it’s unclear if the downturn will hold, as RSV typically peaks in January or February.
“Nationally, the numbers do seem to be turning down,” Dr. Ashish Jha, coordinator for the White House COVID-19 Task Force, told NBC News. “We’ll want to see over the next couple of weeks where that goes. But the preliminary evidence right now is pretty hopeful.”
Pediatric hospital beds available by state
Regardless of what happens with each individual "very contagious" virus, as Jha described them, it's clear that hospitals, especially those serving children, are overwhelmed, and parents who must take their child to one could be in for some lengthy wait times, if they can get a bed at all.
TODAY.com previously reported that one mom waited 16 hours in an Oklahoma emergency room as her 4-year-old daughter struggled to breathe. NBC Washington spoke with a Maryland mom whose son waited a week for a bed in an intensive care unit.
NBC News is tracking the percentage and number of pediatric hospital beds that are available by state this RSV season, to get a sense of where parents need to be most vigilant about protecting kids from respiratory illnesses. RSV and flu are likely responsible for many of hospitalizations, but other conditions are contributing, too.
As of Dec. 9, about 30,000 of the country's 40,000 pediatric hospital beds were available. Five states are at 90% capacity or higher. Currently the most overwhelmed state is Idaho, at 158% capacity, followed by Arizona, Nevada, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.
As flu and RSV season progress, check back to see how full pediatric hospital beds are in your state.