It’s Friday — although I know it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. You deserve a respite from yesterday’s gloom. (If you’re hungry for more gloom, there’s always the most recent edition of The Editors podcast — and thank you, dear readers, for checking on me.) Today’s newsletter focuses on the good news and signs of hope that are probably getting overlooked — and read to the end for an important message from National Review.
When Americans Need to Act Fast, They Can Move Like Lightning
By no stretch of the imagination are we anywhere near “out of the woods” yet. But the dire warnings about overwhelmed hospitals — and dire reports out of facilities in New York City — have gotten many parts of the rest of the country to move quickly to take big steps to expand capacity. And now, bit by bit, parts of the country are starting to think they are, if not fully prepared for any wave, much better equipped than even a week ago.
The state of Florida has now posted a regularly updated chart of hospital bed capacity. As of this writing, the state has about 24,000 beds available, or about 40 percent, and 2,240 ICU beds available, or 37 percent.
The city of Dallas, Texas is also posting that information; as of this writing, the city’s hospitals have 48 percent of hospital beds unoccupied, 44 percent of ICU beds unoccupied, and 69 percent of ventilators are not being used.
After weeks of planning and preparations, New Jersey is now ready to activate its hospital-capacity contingency plans, as facilities in the northern counties are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by a surge of patients with COVID-19.
State officials are preparing to shift patients with more limited clinical needs from existing hospitals to the new “field medical station” set up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Meadowlands in order to make room for individuals who need critical care; the field station, in Secaucus, is expected to start accepting patients Monday. Newark’s University Hospital, the region’s Level 1 trauma center, will oversee the field station and transport the patients by ambulance or air, if needed.
The coronavirus response in Washington State isn’t getting nearly enough attention. The state that had the first coronavirus case in the U.S. now ranks tenth in total cases, with 6,585 as of this writing, and 272 deaths. Credit the early application of social distancing, and I’ve heard some people speculate this reflects that people in the Pacific Northwest aren’t quite as touchy-feely and social as other parts of the country. Another big factor is that the medical community recognized the threat early and ramped up capacity quickly:
“We still have capacities at our hospitals, we are not overwhelmed. That is very different from what you are seeing in New York,” said Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.
Regarding the supply of ventilators, state officials say there are 1,000 intensive care unit ventilators in Washington hospitals and around 50 ventilators in ambulatory surgical facilities.
The state requested 1,000 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile and received 500. The state also bought 500 ventilators.
Cassie Sauer, of the hospital association, said the big concern now is finding interim facilities for COVID-19 patients with mild or moderate symptoms who don’t need full hospital care but who also aren’t ready to go home.
She estimates that statewide, at least several hundred patients who could be discharged remain hospitalized, taking up beds.
Maryland is seeing an increasing number of cases of the coronavirus. Bob Atlas, CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said no hospitals are overwhelmed yet, but they are preparing.
“I wouldn’t say any hospital is at all overwhelmed, nothing like New York at this point,” Atlas said. “Probably the biggest area of need is staffing. It’s hard to flex, and there’s a limited supply. Everyone is looking everywhere they can. The governor’s executive orders have made it so that retirees, people with expired licenses can come back into service.”
Equipment is in short supply across the country. Atlas said they’re getting concerned about a shortage of ventilators as some hospitals are already at their limit. Personal protective equipment is also a concern.
“What I’m hearing from hospitals is one hospital might be in need of masks and one hospital might be in need of gowns, and so we’re starting to do some matchmaking (to) create a little bit of an ad hoc marketplace so that people can trade supplies,” Atlas said.
The coronavirus and the resulting shutdowns are brutal on the hotel industry — but in New York City, at least 20 hotels have signed contracts with the city to convert their rooms into hospital space, creating another 39,000 beds for patients who need care but not intensive care:
Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said Wednesday that the city’s current state of emergency has allowed officials to fast-track contracts with hotels. Workers will move into convert floors of rooms into hospital wings, build out nursing stations, and outfit rooms to house patients who are in need of medical care.
“We are in disaster mode so that contracts can be quickly signed. When it’s operational, patients who don’t need to be incubated, who are recovering but not well enough to leave the hospital, will be sent to hotels,” Katz said.
The city pays the hotels and FEMA reimburses the city; this might help keep these hotels afloat at a time when there are no tourists.
You’re starting to hear cautious optimism that the ramped-up hospital capacity will be sufficient around St. Louis, the San Francisco Bay area, Orange County, Calif., Vermont, southern Arizona, Ohio, and Utah.
In contrast, Bucks County health officials reported an overall decrease in the spread of the coronavirus, although most such cases are doctors, nurses, first responders, store workers, and other essential workers serving the community.
“We are definitely seeing a decrease in the number of cases who don’t know where the heck they got it,” county Health Director David Damsker said. And between 50 and 60 people of the 407 who have tested positive for the coronavirus have recovered and come out of quarantine, he said.
Other Good News You Might Have Missed . . .
- A side effect of so many Americans staying at home is that we’re not getting into the usual trouble that puts people into the hospital. Some emergency rooms are surprisingly quiet — in part because “COVID-19 cases are immediately secured elsewhere in the hospital without entering the ER, segregating the infected patients from the hospital population. At the same time, fears of the virus are discouraging some people who might otherwise go to the ER for a relatively minor medical issue to stay home.”
- New York state lawmakers revised the recently passed controversial bail law to “expand the roster of serious crimes under which judges could still set bail for defendants to include offenses like sex trafficking and grand larceny, as well for certain persistent offenders.”
- For those who thought the recently passed economic recovery bill represented creeping statism, some corporations are not sure they are willing to accept the strings that are attached to the aid money. The flight attendants’ union doesn’t want the federal government to take an equity stake in airlines that accept taxpayer-funded assistance.
- Gun bans are wildly unrealistic proposals for a country where the right of citizens to own a firearm is written in the Constitution. But it’s also revealing that as the country faces a major crisis, Americans go out and ensure that they have a firearm and ammunition for their personal safety: “The FBI reported a 41% surge in background checks by individuals attempting to purchase firearms in the United States last month, according to newly released data from the agency, a significant increase over the same period last year. The new figures indicate 3.7 million gun purchase background checks were conducted in the month of March alone, marking the greatest number of background checks conducted in a single month since the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was launched in 1998.”
My buddy Cam noticed a growing pile of anecdotes of self-described progressives purchasing firearms. “It will be interesting to see just how many folks on the left side of the political aisle discover a newfound appreciation for the Second Amendment, and how many of them in places like coastal California, Washington, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts end up discovering that the gun control laws and anti-gun politicians they may have supported in the past are actually making it impossible for them to acquire a firearm during the current emergency.”
Maybe you see a surge in gun sales as an ominous sign or a reassuring one — hey, it means some businesses out there are still thriving! — but either way, it reinforces how spectacularly implausible the fantasies of “hell yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15” were. This country is going to be dealing with the repercussions of the coronavirus for a long, long time. The idea of some sort of national gun confiscation initiative was always a batty idea, but any lawmaker who tries to enact some sort of widespread seizure of firearms will get, at minimum, laughed out of office now — probably by those who would be asked to seize the weapons from law-abiding citizens.)
ADDENDUM: You have probably noticed that we at National Review are asking for money again, our spring webathon. At NR, we’re . . . doing okay, although we certainly could use a little extra help right now. We understand everybody’s hurting right now — laid-off workers, closed businesses, overworked health workers. But if you can spare it, we could use your help, too. Hopefully, you have felt that the reporting from my colleagues and myself have helped illuminate the current crisis — the role of China and the regime’s lies about the virus’s contagiousness, the continuing implausibility of virus figures from Beijing, the plan of attack to control the virus’s spread, the decision-making of New York City leaders, and how Senator Tom Cotton seemed to see this crisis approaching better than most.
For many of us, our darkest hours also turn out to be our finest hours. I hope you feel that way about National Review and find our continuing efforts worthy of your support.