Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

Many Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds.

Jonathan Wolfe


Credit…The New York Times

The federal government published detailed information on hospitalized Covid-19 patients for the first time. The data, seen in the map above, showed that many Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds.

While we’ve had hospitalization figures from The Covid Tracking Project for some time, the new data is more granular and is revealing just how precarious the situation is in some hot spots. Places like Amarillo, Texas; Coral Gables, Fla.; and Troy, Mich., are now seeing rates of serious illness that approach the levels in New York City during the worst weeks of the spring.

Over all, more than 100 million Americans — about one in three — live in an area where hospitals reported fewer than 15 percent of intensive care beds were still available as of last week.

It’s even worse for one in 10 Americans, who live in areas where fewer than 5 percent of intensive care beds are available — or in some cases are already completely full. In El Paso, for example, just 13 of 400 intensive care beds were not occupied last week. In Fargo, N.D., there were three. In Albuquerque, zero.

The recovery rate for hospitalized coronavirus patients is much higher now than earlier in the pandemic. But when hospitals are full, experts say that maintaining existing standards of care for the sickest patients may be difficult or impossible.

In New Mexico, where I.C.U.s are full across the state, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to announce that hospitals will be allowed to ration care based on who is most likely to survive. Some experts say that physicians are already rationing care, as evidenced by the declining rate at which Covid-19 patients have been hospitalized during the last several weeks. Across the country, officials have begun borrowing beds in children’s hospitals to care for adults.

Rural counties can be particularly vulnerable. In the Big Bend region of Texas, for example, cases are soaring and hospital beds are quickly filling up. The region has just one hospital covering 12,000 square miles, and no heart or lung specialists to treat serious cases of Covid-19.

A sharp increase in cases can quickly overwhelm smaller hospitals, said Beth Blauer, director of the Centers for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins University: “This disease progresses very quickly and can get very ugly very fast. When you don’t have that capacity, that means people will die.”

The United Arab Emirates today became the first government to approve a coronavirus vaccine developed in China, citing preliminary data that showed it was 86 percent effective.

In making the decision, officials relied on an early analysis of late-stage clinical trials by Sinopharm, the state-owned manufacturer, which also showed the vaccine had no serious side effects.

Chinese drugmakers have had to look abroad for clinical trials because the virus is largely under control in China — the more widespread the virus is in a country, the easier it is to confirm a vaccine’s efficacy. The Emirates is one of 10 countries — including Bahrain, Jordan, Peru and Argentina — where Sinopharm is testing two vaccines.

Chinese vaccines could be a huge boon to developing countries because they are less expensive and easier to transport than many competitors’. Sinopharm’s vaccine is made from coronaviruses that have been killed or weakened, a technique that has been used for decades in the influenza and polio vaccines, and experts say this type tends to have few adverse effects.

Nevertheless, today’s move comes with a few big asterisks.

Chinese officials and Sinopharm have not said anything about the approval, and when our reporter called a spokeswoman for Sinopharm, she hung up the phone and did not respond to follow-up calls and messages.

Scientists have also noted that the announcement was lacking in hard data and important details. It didn’t include the ages of the volunteers or the number of Covid-19 cases that were analyzed, for example.

So far the Emirati government has not indicated whether it would begin a mass immunization campaign for its citizens.

When 2-year-old Alice McGraw saw another family walking toward her this summer, she stopped and pointed.

“Uh-oh,” she said to her mother. “People.”

On the one hand, two thumbs up for Alice, who seems to have an innate talent for social distancing. But Alice, like so many of the young people alive right now, has almost no experience in a pandemic-free world. She’s a toddler of Covid-19.

Some parents fear that their children might experience social or emotional delays after not spending enough time with peers. “My daughter has seen more giraffes at the zoo more than she’s seen other kids,” one parent said.

There is good news, though. Young children’s most important relationships are with their parents.

As long as the adults in their lives play with them, talk to them and keep them engaged, childhood development specialists say that most children will likely be just fine. Phew.

  • In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel pleaded with residents to see fewer people and stay at home over the holidays in an impassioned speech, as her country saw a record number of deaths from the coronavirus.

  • In Los Angeles County, amid a surge in cases, some officials who oppose restaurant restrictions are forming their own health departments.

  • Russia has made its coronavirus vaccine available for free in recent days to teachers, medical workers and social-service employees younger than 61 in Moscow. But a lack of trust is hobbling Russia’s rollout.

Here’s a roundup of restrictions in all 50 states.

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Jonathan Wolfe