Covid Hospital Deaths Hit Previous Peaks in Hot-Spot Areas


August 16, 2021 9:24 am

The number of people dying with Covid-19 in U.S. hospitals is hitting previous highs in some hot-spot states with low-to-average vaccination rates, upending hopes the virus has become less lethal.

In Florida, an average of about 203 people a day are dying in the hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid, matching the state’s November peak, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. That’s a daily average of about 9 per million residents, the data show.

Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri have also seen deaths among patients with Covid soar in the past two weeks.

Officials had hoped that targeted vaccination campaigns would dramatically reduce the number of fatalities associated with Covid. Hospital administrators say the vast majority of Covid patients haven’t been vaccinated.

The delta variant has proven alarmingly efficient at both sending younger and less-vaccinated populations to the hospital and finding the relatively small slivers of the vulnerable senior populations that haven’t been inoculated.

Seven-day average cases in Arkansas and Missouri signal that those waves are starting to reverse. Other leading indicators — including the effective reproduction number, which gauges the average number of people infected by one person with Covid — show that Florida and Louisiana may not be far behind. But hospitalizations and deaths lag infections, meaning health-care systems are likely to see continued pressure in the coming weeks.

Over the course of the pandemic, about 69% of deaths have occurred among U.S. hospital inpatients or otherwise in a hospital setting. The proportion of hospital deaths has risen slightly in recent months.

In Florida, the deaths are occurring as about 60% of the broad population and more than 93% of seniors have had at least one jab.

As recently as this month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the delta wave appeared to be 70% to 75% less deadly than previous peaks. That gap — if it still exists — has shrunk substantially.

Florida publishes a weekly Covid report on Fridays. The latest one showed that cumulative official deaths had climbed by 1,071 in the previous period, a daily average of 153. But the data have a significant lag and reflect many deaths that occurred weeks ago or longer. Daily Florida updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are highly incomplete for the most recent days of deaths.

The HHS data provide a snapshot of fatalities among Covid patients. Reporting was limited before late July 2020. The figures are different from official Covid death counts, in which death certificates are reviewed. While the patients had confirmed or suspected Covid when they died in the hospital, it’s possible that some of the deaths weren’t caused by Covid.