Hospitals Were Over-Capacity & Overwhelmed Before COVID

Patient with life saving equipment for treatment in ICU at the hospital.

In Brief

  • The Facts:
    • A study published in April of 2021 suggested that 63 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in U.S. hospitals were occupied prior to the pandemic.

    • There are multiple examples around the world showing that, for years, hospitals have been operating and over-capacity with very limited resources.

  • Reflect On:

    Why didn't we hear about over-capacity hospitals and full ICUs prior to the pandemic if it was already such a big problem in healthcare? Has COVID simply added to an already existing problem?

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Many people like to point to the fact that COVID has overwhelmed hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs). Although this is true, overwhelmed over-capacity hospitals and ICUs is not a new phenomenon, it’s been a problem for decades and seems to get worse every single year. Obviously COVID didn’t help and has just added to an already existing problem, but COVID wasn’t the cause of it, it’s simply an inadequate healthcare system that wasn’t properly prepared to deal with a pandemic.

For example, in 2017, 50 percent of hospitals in Ontario, Canada were at 150 percent capacity. this has always been a norm, and it’s always been a global phenomenon.

A study published in April of 2021 suggested that 63 percent of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in U.S. hospitals were occupied prior to the pandemic. Compared to now, as of the week of September 23rd, the country’s ICU capacity was about 79 percent full on average and August saw more ICUs maxed out than in January when the U.S. was counting more than 3,000 COVID deaths a day and before widespread COVID vaccinations. Today, the majority of ICU’s are occupied by unvaccinated people, which includes people who have had one dose or two doses within 14 days of hospital admissions.

So, the argument that the more people that get vaccinated, the less pressure it puts on hospital ICU’s is valid, at least as long as the vaccine provides that specific protection. But is this still a strong enough argument to mandate them? That being said, given the fact that hospitals have always been full, blaming the unvaccinated in this context doesn’t seem reasonable.

Hospital resources are already limited. For example, per 100,000 population, there was substantial variability in provincial capacity across Canada, with a mean of 0.9 hospitals with ICUs (provincial range 0.4-2.8), and only 10 ICU beds capable of providing mechanical ventilation (provincial range 6–19), and 15 invasive mechanical ventilators (provincial range 10–24).

Certain emergency health measures have had to be implemented in the past not just with COVID. Such as in 2018, when the National Health Service (NHS) was forced to cancel a number of routine operations due to over-capacity hospitals and severe bed shortages.

Also, the 2017-2018 influenza season impacted every single state in the United States. Medical personnel were taking extraordinary measures: asking staff to work overtime, setting up triage tents, restricting friends and family visits and canceling elective surgeries, to name a few.

Furthermore, a new study has suggested that almost half of those hospitalized with COVID-19 had mild or asymptomatic cases.

“The study found that from March 2020 through early January 2021—before vaccination was widespread, and before the Delta variant had arrived—the proportion of patients with mild or asymptomatic disease was 36 percent. From mid-January through the end of June 2021, however, that number rose to 48 percent. In other words, the study suggests that roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely, or had only a mild presentation of disease.”

“Our Most Reliable Pandemic Number Is Losing Meaning.” The Atlantic.

When it comes to the vaccine, there is indeed data showing that it prevents chances of getting really sick from a COVID infection, and also dying from COVID. But for most healthy people under the age of 65, the survival rate from a COVID infection is nearly 100 percent, and the chances of being hospitalized from a COVID infection is also low. The numbers differ greatly depending on age and underlying health conditions.

This begs the question, how much more protection can the vaccine provide? And how is one helping another by getting vaccinated when it’s quite clear that the vaccine does not stop transmission of the virus? Did you know that early clinical trials found that they have approximately a 1 percent efficacy when it comes to absolute risk reduction?

Even though vaccinations offer protection to individuals against severe hospitalization and death, the CDC reported an increase from 0.01 to 9% and 0 to 15.1% (between January to May 2021) in the rates of hospitalizations and deaths, respectively, amongst the fully vaccinated.

It’s also well established that whatever protection the vaccine does provide quickly wanes. This is why Israel, for example, is already rolling out the fourth shot. Meanwhile, the science behind natural immunity with regards to COVID continues to go ignored.

All of the data so far, in my opinion, warrants recommendations with regards to vaccines, but does not warrant vaccine mandates that take away one’s ability to move around freely and make a living.

These policies and restrictions have more and more people asking, are these measures being enforced to combat COVID, or are they being enforced for other ulterior motives? We are living in a world where even asking these important questions can have one branded by the mainstream as a “conspiracy theorist.”

Ultimately, the real issue is a growing amount of death and disease due to various problems that still go largely unacknowledged. Our collective health and the way we treat ourselves is the number one problem, and we can’t blame a healthcare system when, for the most part, that responsibility lies in our own hands.

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