CDC: COVID-19-fueled hospital strain tied to thousands of excess deaths

Erica Carbajal -

A CDC analysis published Nov. 18 predicts that when the nationwide intensive care unit bed capacity hits or exceeds 75 percent, thousands of additional excess deaths occur over the following two weeks. 

Using CDC data on excess deaths from all causes and HHS data on hospital strain, the agency's Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency COVID Task Force evaluated the link between hospital strain and excess deaths between July 2020 and July 2021. Excess deaths were defined as the differences between the observed and expected number of deaths during specific periods, and a model was used to calculate the estimated number of deaths. 

When the country's ICU bed use reaches 75 percent capacity, the study predicts an estimated 12,000 additional excess deaths would occur within two weeks. When the nation's hospitals exceed 100 percent ICU bed capacity, the study estimates 80,000 excess deaths could be expected in the following two weeks. For both capacity limits, even more deaths could be expected at four and six weeks, the study estimates. 

"This analysis indicates the importance of controlling case growth and subsequent hospitalizations before severe strain," the CDC analysis said.

As of Nov. 18, about 78 percent of the nation's ICU beds were in use, HHS data shows. In the analysis, researchers cited the data through Oct. 25, which showed nationwide adult ICU capacity had exceeded 75 percent for at least 12 weeks. 

"This means that the United States continues to experience the high and sustained levels of hospital strain that, according to the model's results, are associated with significant subsequent increases in excess deaths," the study said. 

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