By Madeline Holcombe, CNN
As Covid-19 cases surge across the US, particularly among unvaccinated Americans, hospitals have been pushed to their limits treating the influx of patients — and five states are nearly out of ICU beds.
Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Arkansas have less than 10% left of their ICU bed capacity, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
In Georgia, the CEO of Northeast Georgia Health Systems said it had 287 Covid patients Monday morning, which is more than the hospital has had since January.
“So, in essence, our hospitals are full,” Carol Burrell said. “We’re looking to add space in hallways and conference rooms in waiting areas. Our emergency rooms and our urgent care centers are seeing higher volume than they’ve seen throughout this pandemic,” she said.
And it’s not just the South now. On Tuesday, Idaho had just four ICU beds available out of the 400 beds total in the state, Gov. Brad Little said.
“Yesterday evening I toured a nearly full ICU wing in Boise. What I saw was heartbreaking. Among the Covid-positive patients all of them were unvaccinated,” Little said.
“Some were young, two were middle-aged, two patients were pregnant. I was told the average age of the patients was 43. All of them were struggling to breathe and most were only breathing with help from a machine,” the governor said in a televised address Tuesday.
Hospitals around the country have been stretched as cases have picked back up, but the South, where vaccinations have been lagging, has been particularly hit. Many hospitals have been reporting oxygen shortages.
On Monday, data presented by a vaccine adviser from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a hospitalization rate 16 times greater in the unvaccinated population than in those vaccinated.
“This to me seems to be a strong indication that the current epidemiologic curve that we’re seeing is really a reflection of failure to vaccinate, not vaccine failure,” said Dr. Matthew F. Daley at the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting.
The effect of the low vaccination levels can be seen in Kentucky, where hospitals are overwhelmed with record numbers of Covid-19 patients and 58 of the 96 hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday.
“We’re living in a reality where some Covid patients who are sick are being treated in their cars when there isn’t room for them inside the ER or inside the hospital,” Beshear said.
And Mississippi is also struggling, with only nine ICU beds available in the state, Mississippi Department of Health Senior Deputy and Director Jim Craig said Monday.
With increased hospitalizations, more deaths have followed. The Central Florida Disaster Medical Coalition has purchased a total of 14 portable morgues to help with the “unprecedented” number of Covid-19 deaths in the region, the organization told CNN.
And among children, cases “have increased exponentially” recently after a decline in early summer, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday.
In the past week, about 204,000 children tested positive for Covid-19, a five-fold increase from a month earlier, the AAP said. That’s the second week that pediatric cases are at levels not seen since the surge last winter, the AAP said.
The rise in children’s infections is worrying experts as parents and students prepare for a new school year.
Thousands of students in quarantine
Health experts have been particularly concerned about how cases will trend as school gets underway; and with many regions early in their academic year, thousands of students are already back in quarantine.
In Florida’s 15 largest school districts, at least 21,869 students and 4,481 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of school, according to a CNN analysis.
At least an additional 45,024 students and staff members have been quarantined or put on “stay home” directives due to possible exposure to Covid-19. That’s an increase of 62% since CNN’s last update on Thursday afternoon.
In Texas, after just the first two weeks of school in the Fort Worth Independent School District, more than 3,000 students have been quarantined due to close contact with individuals who tested positive for Covid-19.
The district announced a mask mandate earlier this month for all students, employees and guests, despite ongoing legal battles in the state against Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on such mandates.
While vaccines are currently the best defense against the spread of the virus, they have not yet been approved for those under the age of 12.
But not even those children who are eligible for the protection are not reaping the full benefits. Children ages 12 to 15 are eligible but less then half of that group is vaccinated with at least one dose, according to data published Monday by the CDC.
A Virginia county is requiring student-athletes to get vaccinated
Virginia’s largest school district is among the first to mandate vaccines for some of its students. Athletes in Fairfax County Public Schools will have to be vaccinated in order to compete in winter and spring sports, according to a letter from the superintendent.
“Proof of full COVID-19 vaccination will also be required for participation in any other activity that requires a physical,” Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand wrote in a letter to the community Monday. “This includes dance team and step team, as well as out-of-season practices and workouts.”
The requirement kicks on November 8.
Most pauses in education in the district’s high schools come from exposure to Covid-19 during athletic activities, the letter said.
Students returned to in-person learning at Fairfax County Schools on August 23. Since then, the district has reported at least 177 students and 31 employees have tested positive for Covid-19.
Fairfax’s decision comes several weeks after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a vaccine mandate for “high-risk” public school sports.
The mandate applies to roughly 20,000 students and staff participating in football, basketball, wrestling, lacrosse, stunt, rugby, and bowling, according to a statement from the NYC Department of Education.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul plans to require mandatory weekly Covid-19 testing for school staff in the state who are not vaccinated, she said Tuesday.
“School staff, anybody who enters that building will have to be vaccinated or undergo mandatory testing — mandatory testing, and we’re in the process of getting the legal clearance for that, as I speak,” Hochul said.
School infections could be cut in half by masking and testing, projections show
While the risk of unvaccinated students becoming infected when they go to school is of concern, a new study shows that masking and testing could help prevent infections in at least half of that population.
With universal mask use, less than half of susceptible students — and perhaps as few as a quarter — may become infected with Covid-19 in the same timeframe, depending on the student body’s incoming level of protection from vaccinations or natural immunity, according to , projections modeled by researchers from North Carolina State University and published as a preprint earlier this month.
Adding randomized testing for half of the students biweekly, and assuming at least a 70% compliance with isolation requirements for those who test positive, would cut Covid-19 infections down to less than a quarter of all susceptible students in all scenarios, the researchers’ projections suggested.
The model assumes that in a class of 500, two or three students are infected at the start of the school year and that one additional case enters the school each week.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration told CBS’s Ed O’Keefe on Sunday that “we have to throw everything we can” at minimizing cases among school children.
“I don’t think that we should be going into the school year lifting the mitigation that may have worked and probably did work last year to control outbreaks in the school setting, until we have firm evidence on what works and what doesn’t,” he said, adding measures such as frequent testing and putting students in social pods “are probably the two most effective steps schools can be taking.”
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CNN’s Angela Barajas, Kiely Westhoff, Taylor Romine, Elizabeth Joseph, Mallory Simon, Elizabeth Stuart, Deidre McPhillips, Naomi Thomas and Lauren del Valle contributed to this report.