By Sean Carlin
The seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. has increased by 322% in two months, straining the ability of medical staff in some states to care for patients. Despite the rising numbers, an Instagram post questioned whether COVID-19 is “truly a pandemic that was ‘overwhelming hospitals,’” if hospitals are firing nurses who refuse to be vaccinated.
The latest surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., driven by the delta variant of the virus that causes the disease, has pushed up the seven-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations from 19,123 on June 15 to 80,664 on Aug. 15 — an increase of 322%.
The hospitalizations tend to be higher in states with low vaccination rates, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
But a misleading Instagram post questions the seriousness of the pandemic and its effect on hospitals. “If there were truly a pandemic that was ‘overwhelming hospitals,’ then hospitals wouldn’t be laying off thousands of nurses who refuse to take an experimental vaccine,” the post reads.
While some hospital staff have been fired for refusing to get the vaccine — notably at hospitals in Houston and New Jersey — the overall number dismissed for that reason is likely to be very small at this point, Colin Milligan, a spokesman for the American Hospital Association, told us in an email.
Milligan noted that many hospitals have deadlines in late August or September for complying with mandates or deadlines that are tied to full approval of the vaccines.
About 1,600 — a little more than a quarter — of all hospitals in the U.S. have some sort of vaccine mandate, Milligan said. “There really isn’t evidence that hospitals are shedding employees due to mandates,” he said.
Earlier in the pandemic, some health care providers were forced to tighten their budgets and reduce staff due to lower overall patient volume, canceled elective procedures and higher expenses tied to the pandemic — not because COVID-19 isn’t real, as the post suggests.
But Milligan noted that Bureau of Labor Statistics data show hospital employment has actually ticked up slightly by 11,000 jobs from January to July. Although still below the pre-pandemic high in February 2020, hospital employment was up 45,200 jobs in July compared with a year ago, BLS data show.
The pandemic continues to put a severe financial strain on hospitals, however. More than 260 hospitals furloughed employees and at least 20 others laid off workers over the last year, according to Becker’s Hospital Review, a medical trade publication.
A March report by the consulting service Kaufman Hall & Associates indicated that the number of hospitals operating in the red is likely to increase throughout the year and the financial health of rural hospitals will be significantly affected by the fallout of the pandemic.
“We have not bounced back in terms of maintaining financial stability,” Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, said when the report was released. “And — just as importantly — we are being set back in our ability to care for the sick, injured and keeping people healthy.”
At hospitals hit hardest, doctors and nurses have been dealing with a flood of unvaccinated patients and are “no longer giving adequate care to patients,” Dr. Catherine O’Neal, the chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said at an Aug. 2 press conference.
On Aug. 17, the Florida Hospital Association reported more than 16,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations, a 162% increase from the previous peak on July 23, 2020.
“There can be no question that many Florida hospitals are stretched to their absolute limits,” Mary Mayhew, president of the Florida Hospital Association, said in an Aug. 17 press release, noting that “staff shortages” are compounding the problem. “While hospitalizations continue to increase, three out of four Florida hospitals expect to face critical staff shortages in the next seven days, an increase of nearly ten percent since last week, and half of our hospitals will no longer accept transfer patients from other facilities.”
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.