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COVID cases, hospitalizations soar, but hospital beds are available in Virginia

·4 min read

Virginia COVID-19 cases continue to soar and have pushed hospitalizations above the peaks seen in September, but hospitals still have bed space — even in intensive care units, which has been a major worry for public health officials.

Virginia seems to be seeing a trend doctors in many hotspots have noted in recent days — ICU admissions aren’t tracking all hospitalizations for COVID-19, and in some cases, doctors are discovering COVID-19 in patients admitted for other conditions.

“We have noticed a developing trend showing that a growing minority of patients are only diagnosed with COVID-19 incidentally immediately after being admitted for another medical problem as they noted mild COVID-like symptoms,” said Dr. Michael Dacey, the president and chief officer of Riverside Health System. It has 25 ICU patients with COVID-19 in its Newport News, Williamsburg, Gloucester County and Eastern Shore hospitals.

He said this pattern reflects a growing prevalence of the omicron variant.

While the number of Virginia COVID-19 cases landing in intensive care units is on the rise, it remains below peaks hit in January and after the summer and fall wave of delta variant cases, according to data collected by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association.

Statewide, 25% of ICU beds were available earlier this week, The national average is 22%.

COVID-19 cases, meanwhile, account for about 26% of intensive care patients statewide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported.

A total of 499 Virginians were in intensive care units across the state as of Wednesday, with 415 ICU beds still available, according to the hospital association. They are among the 2,732 hospitalized Virginians with confirmed cases and 233 for whom test results were pending.

Statewide ICU cases are below the January 2021 peak of 585 and the delta variant wave of the summer and fall, which saw 567 Virginians with COVID-19 in ICU beds in late September.

COVID-19 cases in Virginia ICUs declined through October and were around 200 through November. But after the state’s first omicron variant case on Dec. 9 began, COVID-19 ICU cases began rising, reaching more than 300 by mid-December and more than 400 by the end of 2021.

Nationally, 78% of ICU beds are occupied by patients with a variety of illnesses or injuries, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported. In Virginia, the percentage is 75%, DHHS said.

About 17% of all U.S. hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, DHHS said. Virginia’s rate matches that.

In Hampton Roads, Sentara reports 326 COVID-19 hospitalizations in its eight Hampton Roads hospitals. They account for between 13% and 29% of all inpatient hospital beds at the various facilities.

But across its several regions, hospitalizations have tripled in the past 10 days to hit unprecedented levels, said Dr. Jordan Asher, Sentara’s chief physician executive. He said the trend has been a daily increase, as well.

At Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News and Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, “our capacity is stable at this time and remains below higher levels we experienced at prior points in the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jenna Green, spokeswoman for the Bon Secours system.

She said Bon Secours is seeing more patients in its emergency departments and inpatient units.

“We have a COVID-19 Task Force working around-the-clock,” she said. “Our clinical leaders have implemented protocols that are consistent with CDC guidelines to ensure the quality and safety of the care we provide to our patients.”

Those guidelines include visiting restrictions, monitoring temperature and symptoms of patients and providers when entering and while in the hospital, and requirements to wear masks and additional personal protective equipment in areas housing COVID-19.

DHHS data from the week ending Dec. 23, the latest hospital-specific data it makes available, shows a wide range of bed use at Hampton Roads hospitals.

That week, COVID-19 cases in Virginia ICUs rose to a peak of 381 and total inpatient coronavirus cases were around 1,500.

While Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital and Sentara Leigh reported more than 30 ICU beds were available — more than 60% of their capacity — space was tighter at the small ICUs at Riverside Walter Reed Hospital and Bon Secours Mary Immaculate, Hospital, which at that time had just one ICU bed each available.

For all inpatient beds, the percentages available ranged from a high of 50% at Mary Immaculate to a low of 14% at Sentara Virginia Beach and Sentara Obici in Suffolk.

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, dress@dailypress.com