A decade of work helped limit the spread of dangerous pathogens in medical settings. Overcrowding from Covid care is allowing infections to rise again.
Last month, A 46-year-old military veteran in Houston died of pancreatitis, an urgent but treatable condition, while waiting to be admitted to a hospital overwhelmed with unvaccinated Covid patients. Last week, the governor of Hawaii signed an executive order releasing the state’s hospitals from liability if they turn away sick patients because they have no room. On Monday, the Idaho state health department declared “crisis standards of care,” a triage system that allows hospitals with no spare beds to decide which patients they will accept.
Simultaneously, a Florida high school teacher went viral after describing how he took his 12-year-old to an emergency room that turned out to be overwhelmed with Covid patients. They waited six hours, while his child’s appendix ruptured, a potentially life-threatening event. His son survived—after what the dad described as five days in the hospital, and an initial $5,000 bill.
Stories of patients unable to get into hospitals—stuck in waiting rooms, lingering in ambulances, life-flighted to other states where there might be an open bed—have been an awful constant during this hot-spot summer. Overcrowding is an obvious threat to their health. But it poses a more subtle threat to already admitted patients: It creates conditions, and demands on hospital staff, that allow dangerous infections to spread.
Now a new study shows how real that threat is, based on infection statistics from hospitals that battled the first waves of Covid in 2020. An analysis published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology shows that the pressure of caring for Covid patients has erased years of progress in preventing hospital infections. In 2020, according to a federal registry that collects data from thousands of hospitals, urgent care centers, and outpatient facilities, there were sharp, consistent increases in bloodstream and urinary tract infections related to catheters and pneumonias caused by being put on ventilators—including infections caused by drug-resistant staph, better known as MRSA.
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