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Even in Highly Vaccinated New England, Hospitals Are Suffering

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 11/23/2021 Carey Goldberg
Inside A Covid-19 Ward As U.S. Cases Rise at Slower Pace © Bloomberg Inside A Covid-19 Ward As U.S. Cases Rise at Slower Pace

(Bloomberg) -- The northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, all highly vaccinated, are suffering from surges that are taxing hospitals beset by staff shortages and sicker-than-usual patients.

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New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu told reporters Tuesday that the state is seeing its highest level of Covid-19 since the pandemic began, averaging about 1,000 new infections per day. He issued an executive order to help hospitals use their space more flexibly to add capacity.

He also said the state’s residents would soon be able to order about 1 million at-home Covid tests, for free, in part through a partnership between Amazon and the National Institutes of Health. And he announced a “Booster Blitz” for Dec. 11, when 20 sites around the state will offer third doses.

The state, where more than 9% of Covid tests are coming back positive, is in a “hospital capacity emergency,” he said, and with infection rates likely to keep rising for weeks, “it’s going to be a fairly bumpy road.”

All three northern New England states report that hospitalized patients are mainly unvaccinated people from rural areas where vaccination rates are lower.

Massachusetts, too, is grappling with a surge that has boosted the number of hospitalized patients to 740 -- far less than previous pandemic peaks but still challenging for under-staffed hospitals. A Boston emergency department doctor said Tuesday on Twitter that he had to call 11 different hospitals “to find room for two little old ladies that were probably having heart attacks -- in the city that purports to have the best hospitals in the world.”

At Massachusetts General Hospital, the number of Covid patients has risen by about 50% -- from the low 20s to the mid 30s -- in the last month, said the Department of Medicine’s point person on Covid, Arthur Kim.

That may not sound like very many, but the hospital had already been running very close to full capacity, he said,  “And I do know for a fact that people have been delayed in terms of elective procedures because there was no bed to house them after these procedures.”

He, too, described the coming weeks as “bumpy.”

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