"The surgeon explained to my husband he will have to wait at least three months for his surgery ... the hospitals need to keep beds open for Covid."
Those are the words of a Maryland woman sent to author and former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson. They are the desperate pleas for sanity by voiceless citizens amid a panic by a health care system that is erring on the side of obliteration rather than caution.
From watching the news, one would come away with the impression that there has never been such a run on hospital bed space in the history of our country. The data, in fact, show that the general level of hospitalization is not that much higher than a flu season, even in hard-hit areas, and likely lower in other areas. Given that this virus has already boxed out the flu for this season and that its peak virulence is only six to eight weeks in a given area, the panic is not only unjustified, but harmful to patients with other ailments.
Justin Hart, co-founder of COVID data website RationalGround.com, posted a fascinating analysis showing that the burden on hospitals is likely not much more than a typical flu season. Using data from the American Hospital Association data hub and the HHS Protect Public Data Hub, he was able to compare the current hospitalization level (Nov. 1-Nov. 9) to the average level over the three-year period from 2016 through 2018.
The result is that nationwide there is only a 4.7% increase above the three-year average level. Thus, we have destroyed our economy, mental health, other health care, and the future of our children for a level of hospitalization that is within the historic norms. And that is assuming that these draconian restrictions have any effect on reducing hospitalizations, which they clearly don't.
Now consider the fact that the 477,000-average number of hospital beds in use is taken from a three-year average of all 365 days in the year, which includes the non-flu season. I couldn't find data on the flu season hospital levels by day, but it's safe to say that if current levels are only 4.7% higher than the normal average, they can't be too much higher (or higher at all) than the peak of a typical flu season.
It is true that in some states, there has been a double-digit increase in the percentage of beds in use over the average, but those are states that have never gotten hit badly until now. In fact, in most of the states in the Great Plains and mountain West, they experienced lower-than-average hospitalizations throughout the pandemic. So, for them to experience 15%-30% increases at the worst six- to eight-week peak as they get their first major wave (as everyone will experience, regardless of their policies) is not exactly reflective of the pandemic of a millennium. During the peak weeks of the 2018 flu season, we clearly experienced those periods in some states, yet nobody even knew about it.
Also, given the fact that hospitals have surge capacity (plus $200 billion from the feds), even the increased numbers themselves are not a good measure of strain on hospitals. One has to look at the total percentage of beds in use as compared to the percentage during average times. Justin Hart calculated the percentage increase in bed capacity in use compared to the three-year average and found the numbers even lower:
Whereas the increase in raw number of beds in use is 4.7% over the three-year average, the increase in percentage of bed capacity in use is only 3.1%. Thus, as you can see, for all the panic in Utah and New Mexico, the percentage of bed space in use is actually lower than normal! And that is lower than the average period, not just the peak of a flu season.
These numbers might increase in the worst areas, but this is nothing like what is being sold to the public. So in Maryland, where we have a woman stating that her husband is being denied timely cancer surgery to free up bed space, the state is experiencing a 2.9% increase above average utilization, which likely means it's at least on par with the levels of the flu season. I've never heard of delaying cancer surgeries during the flu season, even though hospitals aren't given billions of dollars every flu season like they are today.
Finally, it's important to remember that this analysis is all predicated on a very liberal definition of a COVID hospitalization. During the flu season, we don't test every person who walks through the hospital — whether for a heart attack or trauma — for the flu. Plus, there is no incentive in medical billing reimbursements to code a patient as a flu patient as there is with coronavirus. Thus, the COVID-19 bed numbers are inflated relative to average flu numbers. By how much? Only two states — Iowa and North Dakota — publish data distinguishing those hospitalized because of COVID-19 from those hospitalized with the virus. Iowa's dashboard shows a 27% differential between those who come in because of the virus versus those who are added as a secondary diagnosis. If other states have even a 10% differential, then we'd actually be below average levels in most states when isolating just those who are experiencing complications from the virus itself.