Growing coronavirus outbreaks in the American West and Midwest have taken an alarming turn as some states report growing Covid-19 hospital stays and a shrinking supply of beds for patients.
According to a CNBC analysis of data from the Covid Tracking Project, an independent volunteer organization launched by journalists at The Atlantic, six states hit record hospital stays in Covid-19 based on a weekly average to start reporting as of Friday smooth.
Most of the states are based in the Midwest, including Missouri, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
At least 663 people with Covid-19 were hospitalized in Wisconsin on Friday, well above the state's previous highs in April when approximately 400 people were hospitalized. Only 19% of the state's hospital beds are available, and 27% of the state's Covid-19 patients are in intensive care, according to the data dashboard.
At least 1,137 people with Covid-19 were hospitalized in Missouri on Friday, the highest number of patients in the state according to the Covid Tracking Project. Missouri, which tracks the weekly average of coronavirus patients, has reported a steady increase in patients and a slight decrease in available beds in intensive care units since early September.
Public health experts closely monitor hospitalizations as they can show how severe an outbreak is in an area. It is seen as a better measure than new cases because it is not as dependent on the availability of tests.
According to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, coronavirus cases grew by 5% or more on a weekly average in 27 states on Friday. Kentucky, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Montana all achieved record levels.
"What we are seeing right now is community broadcast in the upper Midwest and Northwest," Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told lawmakers on Friday during a US subcommittee on coronavirus crisis selection.
"What we see now is simply an ancient community such as we have seen in the southeast and southwest, coming from people who do not practice the three Ws: wash your hands, keep your distance, wear your face-coverings. "
Wisconsin reports "alarming trends"
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Thursday urged residents to stay home as much as possible and wear face covers in public. Evers extended Wisconsin's masking mandate last week when he warned of an "alarming increase" in cases across the state, particularly on college campuses.
"I am concerned about the alarming trends in Covid-19 we are seeing in our state," Evers reiterated during a press conference Thursday, the day after the state reported 27 new Covid-19 deaths – the highest daily total ever recorded.
Wisconsin reported 2,745 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, continuing the trend of infections climbing to levels that the state has not yet seen in its response to the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins data.
"We smoldered there for a long time, but never really got to a point where we would say our resources were overwhelmed," said Dr. Nasia Safdar, Infectious Disease Physician and Medical Director of Infection Prevention at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
"It was kind of slow burn and now it's clearly a forest fire," said Safdar.
The recent surge in Covid-19 cases is one of the first major challenges for Wisconsin since the pandemic began. "Nobody has a huge surplus of supplies such as hospital beds, personal protective equipment and medical personnel." .
"I think this is probably the worst time for us to see this as the flu season approaches," said Safdar.
Bellin Health, which operates a hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said in a statement that its emergency room had multiple cases over the past week where it was at full capacity, placing patients in hallway beds, Reuters reported Thursday.
Evers signed an emergency warrant on the same day to simplify licensing rules for healthcare workers to practice in facilities in Wisconsin and help with the increase in Covid-19 patients.
A "worrying trend" in Nebraska
Nebraska also reported a record number of Covid-19 hospital stays this week. According to a CNBC analysis of data from the Covid Tracking Project, the weekly average of patients has grown by more than 16% from Friday.
"We are seeing a worrying trend of increasing hospital stays and decreasing bed capacity," said Dr. Angela Hewlett, Fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America and Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
"In our Omaha metropolitan area, we currently have the highest number of hospitalizations for patients with Covid since spring," she said.
Daily coronavirus cases are up more than 37% compared to a week ago in Nebraska, and increased to a 7-day average of over 540 on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins.
Most of the positive cases in Nebraska are in the 20- to 34-year-olds, according to the state's dashboard, but the coronavirus now appears to be infecting older adults who are at higher risk of developing serious illnesses, Hewlett said.
"I worry that we are sitting on a curve here and that there may be more deaths once our higher-risk individuals become infected," she said.
Hospital stays in Iowa are increasing
Iowa hospitals reported a more than 27% increase in Covid-19 patients on Friday compared to a week ago and rose to record highs last seen in May, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
On Friday, Governor Kim Reynolds allowed bars, restaurants, breweries, and wineries to reopen in Johnson and Story counties, two of the most populous areas of Iowa, home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.
Shops closed in late August as the number of coronavirus cases increased, students returned to universities for the fall semester, and face-to-face tuition at K-12 schools resumed. Some infectious disease experts welcomed the actions but said they were likely "too little too late".
As Iowa hospital stays increase, the problem extends beyond the state's hospital bed and ventilation capacity, said Dr. Megan Srinivas, a Fort Dodge-based infectious disease doctor.
"There's also the problem of staffing and needing nurses and doctors," she said. "As hospital stays increase, this will really be a limiting factor, especially in many rural parts of the state."