The rise of ubiquitous self-testing and the paucity of accurate, timely data from the CDC on COVID numbers has left us feeling our way in the dark in terms of the current state of the pandemic. Clearly there’s a new surge underway, driven by the BA.5 variant. What we can report from our experiences on the road over the past few weeks is that the wave is significant.
We’re hearing from our health system members that inpatient COVID volumes and COVID-related ED visits are significantly up again—often double or more what they were just two months ago, although still well below levels of past surges. Length of stay for COVID inpatients is shorter, with fewer ICU visits than during the Delta surge—about the same intensity, proportionally, as during Omicron.
But COVID-related staffing shortages are once again having a real impact on hospitals’ ability to deliver care—clinical and non-clinical staff callouts are at high levels again, as during Omicron.
One piece of good news: masking is back in vogue among many health system executive teams, likely in response to a number of “superspreader” events: gatherings of hospital staff over the past few weeks that resulted in clusters of cases. One system described an all-hands session for anesthesiologists that resulted in more than a dozen cases across the next week—forcing the hospital to cancel procedures.
We’re worried that this BA.5 surge is just getting started, and with booster uptake stagnating and masking all but nonexistent in the general population, the late summer and early autumn situation could be significantly worse.
Be careful out there.