'All the beds are taken by Covid victims': Hospitals in the South are running out of space or staff

(CNN) -- Covid-19 hospitalizations are reaching all-time highs in parts of the South, with some patients unable to get the care they would normally receive.

Susan Walker has been calling out-of-state hospitals trying to get help for her husband, who did not get vaccinated against Covid-19 and is now in a medically induced coma.

"He is on a ventilator and in dire need of an ECMO treatment, which is not available at the hospital that he is in," the Florida mother said Sunday.

"All the beds are taken up by Covid victims also getting ECMO."

An ECMO treatment uses external machinery that can function as the heart and lungs. It's been used in some severely ill Covid-19 patients, including young adults.

"We have searched every hospital from the south of Florida to the north part of Florida" trying to find availability, Walker said.

"To transfer him to a hospital in Florida is next to impossible."

Across the country, states are struggling to fend off the Delta variant -- the most contagious strain of coronavirus yet.

But the situation in particularly worrisome in several Southern states.

Louisiana set a new record for Covid-19 hospitalizations last week.

Florida's hospitalizations recently jumped 13% above the state's previous peak on July 23, 2020, according to a survey by the Florida Hospital Association.

The FHA said it expects 60% of the state's hospitals to face a "critical staffing shortage" by this week.

And at Houston's United Memorial Medical Center, "We have no beds. The emergency department is full of patients just waiting to be able to get into the hospital," Chief of Staff Dr. Joseph Varon said Sunday morning.

"Over the last 12 hours, we have lost more patients than ... in the last five to six weeks."

More hospitalizations and deaths expected

The US now is averaging more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases every day -- the highest in almost six months, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Because it can take days or weeks for some Covid-19 cases to lead to hospitalization or death, doctors are bracing for an ugly repeat of scenes from 2020.

"It's bad. For me, this is a deja vu of what we had last year," Varon said.

"And the worst part about this is this was foreseeable. And this was preventable. So not only are (we) exhausted, we're annoyed. And we're annoyed because people are not doing the right thing."

The vast majority of those getting hospitalized with or dying from Covid-19 are not fully vaccinated, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week.

And Americans who have already had Covid-19 shouldn't assume they don't need a shot.

For adults previously infected with Covid-19, vaccines give better protection against reinfection than natural immunity on its own, according to a CDC study published Friday.

The study suggests people who got Covid-19 in 2020 and didn't get vaccinated were more than twice as likely to be reinfected in May or June 2021, compared with people who also had Covid-19 but were later fully vaccinated.

"If you have had Covid-19 before, please still get vaccinated," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday.

There is no minimum time to wait between recovering from Covid-19 and getting vaccinated, the CDC said.

"Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country," Walensky said

Pediatric ICUs are getting overwhelmed

Almost half the country is not fully vaccinated, including children under 12 who are not yet eligible but are still vulnerable to Covid-19.

Scientists say the Delta variant is as contagious as chicken pox, with each infected person potentially infecting eight or nine other people.

Delta may also cause more severe disease than other strains of coronavirus, according to studies cited in an internal CDC presentation.

Now some hospitals are seeing younger Covid-19 patients than before.

"Something very scary now is happening in the Southern United States. We are seeing this massive surge of hospitalizations of young people that we've never seen before in hospitals across the South," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

"It's many, many young people, including, I'm sorry to say, many children's hospital admissions. And for the first time that I can remember, we're starting to see pediatric intensive care units get overwhelmed, which we never really saw before."

As of Tuesday, an average of 192 children with Covid-19 were admitted to US hospitals every day over the past week, CDC data shows.

That's a 45.7% increase from the previous week in daily new hospitalizations among Covid-19 patients ages 0 to 17.

In the Miami area, "our children's hospitals are completely overwhelmed," said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University.

As of Friday, she said, Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami was at 116% occupancy.

"Our pediatricians, the nursing, the staff are exhausted. And the children are suffering," Marty said.

"It is absolutely devastating ... We've never seen numbers like this before."

Last week, Ava Amira Rivera -- an 11-month-old Covid-19 patient -- had to be airlifted to a Texas hospital 150 miles away because of a shortage of pediatric beds in the Houston area.

None of the major pediatric hospitals in the area had beds available, said Amanda Callaway, a spokeswoman for Harris Health System.

The baby's condition has since stabilized, and she is no longer intubated.

Long-haul Covid victim: 'I didn't think I fit the profile'

Quentin Bowen said he had scheduled an appointment to get vaccinated but had to cancel because of work.

The 41-year-old farmer from Nebraska said he assumed delaying his vaccination wasn't a big deal.

"I didn't think I fit the profile of who Covid (could) attack," Bowen said Saturday. "I was healthy. I was younger. And I was going to get (the vaccine). And I figured I'd been exposed to it before and never got it, so I thought I had time."

But Bowen fell sick with Covid-19 in May. He recalled going to the hospital and asking his friend to tell his kids he loved them.

"I knew I wasn't coming home that day. And I didn't know if I'd come home ever," Bowen said.

He survived a pulmonary embolism but is still struggling with complications three months later.

Bowen urged Americans to get vaccinated as soon as they can, when they still have the power to help preserve their health.

"Once you walk through the hospital door," he said, "it's all out of your hands."


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