Rising hospitalizations put CDC's COVID-19 prevention guidelines to the test

When COVID-19 cases were on the decline in February after reaching pandemic peaks in January, the CDC updated its guidance for informing COVID-19 prevention measures to rely more on hospitalizations and strain on the healthcare system, rather than the number of new cases alone. As hospitalizations now rise across the country, that strategy could be put to the test, The New York Times reported May 6. 

Before the CDC's guidance shift, 95 percent of counties in the U.S. were considered high risk, meaning masks were recommended for everyone indoors. After the new guidance was issued — which relies on a combination of new hospitalizations, hospital capacity and new cases to inform prevention measures — fewer than one-third of counties were considered high-risk, giving most Americans a sense of comfort to remove their masks. 

Now, with nationwide hospitalizations up 20 percent over the last 14 days, more counties could re-enter the high-risk level, which indicates a "high potential for a community's healthcare system to become strained," alongside an indoor mask recommendation for all residents. As of May 5, nearly 88 percent of counties were still in the low-level category. 

A daily average of 18,181 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of May 6, a 20 percent rise over the last 14 days. A total of 40 states and Washington, D.C., are reporting a rise in hospitalizations. The CDC's director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said the agency is keeping a close eye on the acuity of hospitalizations. In an April 26 update, she said the agency has seen less oxygen use, fewer ICU stays and no increase in associated death compared to earlier stages of the pandemic. 

For some hospitals though, even a small rise in admissions can add immense pressure given ongoing staffing shortages. 

"COVID-19 is here, COVID-19 is an issue, but the main challenge up here is the staffing," Michael Stapleton, CEO of F.F. Thomson Hospital in Canandaigua, N.Y., told the Times.


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