Impact of Hospital Strain on Excess Deaths During the COVID-19 Pandemic — U.S. July 2020–July 2021
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Impact of Hospital Strain on Excess Deaths During the COVID-19 Pandemic — U.S. July 2020–July 2021

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  • Alternative Title:
    MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep
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    Surges in COVID-19 cases have stressed hospital systems, negatively affected health care and public health infrastructures, and degraded national critical functions (1,2). Resource limitations, such as available hospital space, staffing, and Suppl.ies led some facilities to adopt crisis Standards of care, the most extreme operating condition for hospitals, in which the focus of medical decision-making shifted from achieving the best outcomes for individual patients to addressing the immediate care needs of larger groups of patients (3). When hospitals deviated from conventional Standards of care, many preventive and elective procedures were suspended, leading to the progression of serious conditions among some persons who would have benefitted from earlier Diagnosis and intervention (4). During March-May 2020, U.S. emergency department visits declined by 23% for heart attacks, 20% for strokes, and 10% for diabetic emergencies (5). The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) COVID Task Force* examined the relationship between hospital strain and excess deaths during July 4, 2020-July 10, 2021, to assess the impact of COVID-19 surges on hospital system operations and potential effects on other critical infrastructure sectors and national critical functions. The study period included the months during which the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) Variants became predominant in the U.S.| The negative binomial regression model used to calculate estimated deaths predicted that, if intensive care unit (ICU) bed use nationwide reached 75% capacity an estimated 12,000 additional excess deaths would occur nationally over the next 2 weeks. As hospitals exceed 100% ICU bed capacity, 80,000 excess deaths would be expected in the following 2 weeks. This Analysis indicates the importance of controlling case growth and subsequent hospitalizations before severe strain. State, local, tribal, and territorial leaders could evaluate ways to reduce strain on public health and health care infrastructures, including implementing interventions to reduce overall disease prevalence such as vaccination and other Prevention strategies, as well as ways to expand or enhance capacity during times of high disease prevalence.
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