Southern parts of U.S are running out of oxygen supply as cases of Covid-19 and hospitalizations continue to rise, largely because of the large number of people who remain unvaccinated and a dangerous variant of the coronavirus that has relentlessly infected millions of Americans.
Several hospitals in Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana are battling oxygen shortages. Some are at risk of having to use up their reserve supply or run out of oxygen imminently, according to state health officials and hospital consultants.
With the continued increase in Covid-19 cases, there has been more demand on the supply of oxygen, and hospitals cannot keep pace to meet these needs, Donna Cross, who is senior director of facilities and construction at Premier — a center health care performance improvement company — told the CNN.
“Normally, an oxygen tank would be about 90% full and suppliers would let them go down to a refill level of 30-40% remaining in their tank, giving them a cushion of three to five days’ supply,” explained Cross . “What’s happening now is that hospitals are shrinking to about 10-20%, which is a one to two days’ worth of inventory, before they’re replenished.”
Even when they’re being filled, it’s only a partial supply of about 50%, Cross said. “It’s a very critical situation.”
Florida on Saturday had the highest Covid-19 hospitalization rate in the country, with 75 patients per 100,000 hospital residents with the virus, according to data from federal health officials and Johns Hopkins University. It also hit another pandemic peak of Covid-19 cases on Friday, reporting 690.5 new cases per 100,000 people each day from Aug. 20 to 26, state data showed.
Dr. Ahmed Elhaddad, a physician in the Florida intensive care unit, told Pamela Brown of CNN, on Saturday, who is frustrated and “tired of seeing people die and suffer because they didn’t get the vaccine”.
He noted that the Delta variant is “eating” people’s lungs, eventually leading to collapse as well as heart problems.
“We’re seeing patients die faster with this variant (Delta),” said Elhaddad, who is the ICU medical director at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida.
“In this round, we’re seeing younger patients — 30, 40, 50 years — and they’re suffering. They are starved for oxygen and are dying. Unfortunately, in this round they are dying faster,” he said.
Elhaddad noted that his ICU does not have a single Covid-19 patient who is vaccinated, nor has he seen any vaccinated person die from Covid-19.
“There is no magic remedy. The only thing we’re finding is that the vaccine is preventing death. It’s preventing patients from coming to the ICU,” said Elhaddad.
Florida fully vaccinated 52.4% of its total population, data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed on Saturday.
Meanwhile, less than 50 percent of people in South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas — where oxygen supplies are also low — are fully vaccinated. Studies have shown that complete vaccination is necessary for optimal protection against the Delta variant.
Nationally, 52.1% of the population is fully vaccinated by Saturday, CDC data show.
Hurricane Ida hits Louisiana as hospitalizations for Covid-19 remain high
With Louisiana’s overall vaccination rate remaining among the lowest in the country at 41.2%, the state’s hospitals are handling hundreds of Covid-19 patients as a hurricane threatens the region.
There are 2,450 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Saturday, a 20 percent drop in the past 10 days. But it’s still the most the state has had since before the current spike in cases, Edwards told Jim Acosta of CNN.
More than 475 of these patients use ventilators, according to data from the state health department.
Hurricane Ida is expected to hit the state as a major hurricane. Potential injuries caused by the storm increase the risk of healthcare facilities becoming extremely overcrowded as Covid-19 patients already occupy hospitals at high rates.
“Evacuating hospitals will not be possible because there is nowhere to bring these patients, there is no excess capacity anywhere else in the state or out of state,” Edwards said.
“So you have people who could be injured as a result of the hurricane itself, so we need to make sure we have some capacity for them,” he said. “We still have a very, very challenging situation here across the state of Louisiana.”
Edwards pointed out that he is concerned about long periods of power outages. The state has about 10,000 line workers ready to go and another 20,000 ready to help as needed.
“Restoring power will be extremely important to keeping these hospitals up and running,” he said.
Every parish in the state is in the highest-risk category for the coronavirus, with widespread and uncontrolled transmission and many undetected cases, the state health department said.
‘We are entering a very difficult time for young people,’ says the doctor
The return to face-to-face learning has seen thousands of students quarantined across the United States, with cases of Covid-19 among children reaching levels not seen since the winter.
And child hospitalizations due to Covid-19 could continue to increase as more children return to classrooms this fall.
“There’s no doubt that we’re entering a really difficult time for young people,” Dr. Esther Choo told the Wolf Blitzer newspaper at CNN on Saturday.
Choo, professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, added that while people had some assurance last year that the virus would not affect children as severely, this year is different.
“We are going back to school in person, without a mask in the United States. There’s a lot of resistance to things like masks and vaccinations that would keep our kids safer in schools,” she said.
Notably, children under the age of 12 are still not eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Not all schools in the United States have opened yet, but the rest are expected to open after Labor Day, which is when Choo said child hospitalizations for Covid-19 could increase.
“We’re definitely going to see more of what we’re seeing now, which is hospitals exploding with pediatric admissions,” she said, noting that child deaths in Covid-19 will also become more common.