Pandemic May Strain Medical System for Winters to Come

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The coronavirus is not going away soon, and that could lead to more dangerous winter surges of respiratory illnesses that will strain the U.S. medical system for years to come, says White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha, MD.

People with other serious illnesses may have trouble getting the care they need and will face long emergency room waits before admission, Jha told  The Washington Post

“I am worried that we are going to have, for years, our health system being pretty dysfunctional, not being able to take care of heart attack patients, not being able to take care of cancer patients, not being able to take care of the kid who’s got appendicitis because we’re going to be so overwhelmed with respiratory viruses for … 3 to 4 months a year,” he said.

Before the pandemic, hospitals usually saw more patients in the winter because of the flu and other respiratory illnesses. But the presence of COVID means that winter crunch is starting months earlier than usual – as soon as August or September, Jha said. 

“I just think people have not appreciated the chronic cost, because we have seen this as an acute problem,” he said. “We have no idea how hard this is going to make life for everybody, for long periods of time.”

An unnamed Biden administration official said the situation may not be as dark as Jha predicted.

“It’s not an unreasonable hypothesis,” the official said. “But I don’t think we have hit a steady state of disease to be able to say for sure what we will see, year in and year out. It’s very dynamic.”

This winter, cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are happening along with COVID and the flu. But data shows that flu and RSV appear to have peaked before the holidays, showing that the U.S. avoided a post-holiday “tripledemic” of respiratory illnesses, a CDC epidemiologist told NPR. 

 The New York Times reported Friday that the U.S. was averaging about 60,000 new COVID cases per day, a 4% increase over 2 weeks. An estimated 564 daily COVID deaths are being reported, up 61% over 2 weeks, according to the newspaper. 


The Washington Post: “The doctor won’t see you now: Covid winters are making long hospital waits the new normal.”

NPR: “The RSV surge has peaked, and the flu is receding – but COVID rates are up again.”

The New York Times front page.

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