HealthDay News — In another grim reminder of the toll that the pandemic continues to take on Americans, the daily average for hospitalized COVID-19 patients is now higher than any previous case surge except last winter.

As that daily average topped 100,000, COVID-19 deaths have also risen to an average of more than 1000 a day for the first time since March, The New York Times reported. In the past 2 months, hospitalizations nationwide have increased by nearly 500%, fueled by the rapid spread of the highly infectious Delta variant and a large pool of unvaccinated Americans. Things are particularly dire across Southern states, which have some of the country’s lowest vaccination rates and widespread opposition to mask mandates.

In Florida, 16,457 people are hospitalized, the most of any state, followed by Texas, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. As cases and hospitalizations surged in Tennessee, the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville on Thursday requested assistance from the National Guard.

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“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” Shannon Byrd, MD, a pulmonologist in Knoxville, told The New York Times. “It’s bringing whole families down and tearing families apart. They’re dying in droves and leaving surviving loved ones with a lot of funerals to go to.”

With the latest surge overwhelming hospitals, a nursing shortage has hindered treatment of COVID-19 patients, leading to longer emergency room waiting times and rushed or inadequate care. This month alone, 1 in 5 intensive care units (ICUs) reached or exceeded 95% of beds full. As in earlier surges, hospitals have been forced to create makeshift ICUs in areas typically reserved for other types of care, and even set up beds in hallways or spare rooms, The New York Times reported. Experts say maintaining existing standards of care for the sickest patients may be difficult or impossible at hospitals with more than 95% ICU occupancy.

The New York Times Article