COVID-19 hospitalizations up 40% from September; Texas plans field hospital, Utah discusses care rationing — 5 updates

The nation's seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases passed 69,000 Oct. 25, marking a record high, reports The Washington Post. 

The U.S. also reported 83,757 new cases Oct. 23, marking a new single-day record for the country and the fifth consecutive day of increased new case totals, according to The Wall Street Journal. Nationwide, more than 41,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, up 40 percent from the past month, according to The New York Times.

The surge in hospitalizations is placing new strain on health systems. El Paso, Texas, has seen a nearly fourfold increase in hospitalizations in the past three weeks. Hospitals hit ICU capacity Oct. 24, spurring El Paso County to enact a curfew Oct. 25 and asked residents to stay home for two weeks to help limit the virus's spread, according to The Post. The state also plans to open a 50-bed field hospital at El Paso's convention center this week, which can expand to 100 beds if needed.

The steady rise in hospitalizations has also spurred care rationing discussions in Utah, where many hospitals are nearing 85 percent capacity — the maximum benchmark set to ensure hospitals have enough staff members to care for patients. If current trends continue, hospitals may need to ask Gov. Gary Herbert to invoke "crisis standards of care," according to Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association. The care rationing plan, which was shared with the Governor's office Oct. 22, would entail deeming younger patients or those who are pregnant higher priority for ICU care, among other actions, reports The Hill.

Four more updates: 

1. At least five aides to Vice President Mike Pence have tested positive for COVID-19, including his chief of staff Marc Short, reports The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Pence last tested negative for the virus Oct. 25 and plans to continue campaign travelling this week.  

2. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are both set to resume clinical trials for their COVID-19 vaccine candidates after being cleared by independent experts, reports The Wall Street Journal. AstraZeneca halted its study in September after a participant developed neurological symptoms. J&J paused its trial in early October after a participant had a stroke.  

3. If 95 percent of Americans wore masks in public, nearly 130,000 COVID-19 deaths could be prevented between Sep. 22, 2020, and Feb. 28, 2021, according to a study published in Nature. Researchers analyzed COVID-19 data from Feb. 1 to Sept. 21, 2020, to model possible trajectories of COVID-19 infections and the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions in the U.S. The study also found an additional 95,814 lives could be saved if 85 percent of Americans wore masks.

4. HHS leaders are bracing for the departure of many staffers if President Donald Trump loses reelection, which could leave the department short-staffed amid the pandemic this winter, reports Politico. At least 27 political appointees have exited HHS since February, and dozens more may depart if President Trump isn't reelected, 17 current and former HHS officials told Politico. Mass departures would leave the department understaffed amid a winter of outbreaks and drug authorizations until Inauguration Day Jan. 20.

Snapshot of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Cases: 8,637,108
Deaths: 225,239
Recovered: 3,422,878

Counts reflect data available as of 8:30 a.m. CDT Oct. 26.

More articles on public health:
26 states where COVID-19 is spreading fastest, slowest: Oct. 26
COVID-19 hospitalizations by state: Oct. 26
US breaks record for single-day COVID-19 cases, topping 80,000

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