Flu in 2018 proven just as hard on U.S. hospitals as COVID-19 but economy, schools remained open

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Amid news reports claiming that hospitals around the country are reaching ‘crisis levels’ due to a crush of coronavirus patients, political leaders — mostly Democrats — are calling for schools to remain closed in the fall and for the reopening of state economies to slow.

However, according to research presented by Michael Thau in a Sunday column for Red State, the country underwent a very similar situation in 2018 as influenza ravaged communities and filled hospitals to the brim.

But, unlike COVID-19, the stress on hospitals two years ago did not get the same breathless national media coverage, nor did states or schools shut down, Thau notes, citing material unearthed by researcher Justin Hart.

“These are actual quotes from pieces I’ve just read. I don’t know why I’ve been ignoring this. Let me say that I’m serious about my respect for frontline workers. I’m confident THEY are NOT the ones calling for us to lose our jobs so they can do theirs. Politicians did that,” Hart says to begin his tweet thread.

In one, Hart notes:

“Tallia says his hospital is ‘managing, but just barely,’ at keeping up with the increased number of sick patients in the last three weeks. The hospital’s urgent-care centers have also been inundated, and its outpatient clinics have no appointments available.”

And while it sounds as though that quote could have been pulled from any number of current coronavirus reports, Thau notes that it actually came from a January 2018 Time magazine story.

Additional news citations in relation to the flu epidemic at the time include:

— “Dr. Bernard Camins, associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says that UAB Hospital cancelled [sic] elective surgeries scheduled for Thursday and Friday of last week to make more beds available.” “‘We had to treat patients in places where we normally wouldn’t, like in recovery rooms,’” says Camins. “‘The emergency room was very crowded, both with sick patients who needed to be admitted.’”

— “In CA… several hospitals have set up large ‘surge tents’ outside their emergency departments to accommodate and treat … patients. Even then, the LA Times reported this week, emergency departments had standing-room only, and some patients had to be treated in hallways.”

— “In Fenton, Missouri, SSM Health St. Clare Hospital has opened its emergency overflow wing, as well as all outpatient centers and surgical holding centers, to make more beds available to patients who need them. Nurses are being ‘pulled from all floors to care for them.’” One healthcare official noted another coronavirus similarity: That the flu was “‘making their pre-existing conditions worse.’ ‘More and more patients are needing mechanical ventilation due to respiratory failure.’”

“Time Magazine also reported that California’s hospitals had to deal with a surge in patients in 2018. But instead of abridging everyone’s most basic rights and decimating small businesses, seems they successfully dealt with the overflow by creating additional space to treat them just like they did in Alabama,” Thau noted.

He added that reports from 2018 noted that hospitals were not ‘overwhelmed’ per se; they managed their patient loads and when appropriate, took other measures such as diverting patients to hospitals that were not so busy or erecting “surge tents” to care for the overflow.

Hart also quoted a report that said, “Hospitals across the state are sending away ambulances, flying in nurses from out of state and not letting children visit their loved ones for fear they’ll spread.”

From Time:

Many hospitals are also encouraging visitors to stay away. Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center announced last week that it was temporarily restricting visits from children 14 and under and anyone with flu symptoms. “This measure is to prevent unnecessary spread of influenza and to protect you, our patients, and our staff,” the health system posted on Facebook.

The Texas Tribune also noted that hospitals in that state were inundated with flu patients during the 2017 flu season.

“Widespread flu activity has left hospitals overwhelmed with patients. But high emergency room volumes and filled hospital beds are ‘not uncommon’ for this point during flu season, state officials said,” the news outlet reported.

“It sure is a shame nobody remembered that the flu overwhelmed our hospital system just two years ago or any of the simple and creative strategies that were used to make sure everybody got the treatment they needed,” Thau writes, “especially since our hospitals haven’t been overrun by COVID-19 anywhere near to the extent that they appear to have been in 2018 by the flu.”

Former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson tweeted data from Florida on Sunday to substantiate Thau’s statement that, even in ‘hard-hit’ states, coronavirus is not taxing hospital systems.

“And after a week of nightmare headlines about Florida, and about 70,000 new cases (aka positive tests), hospitals have a grand total of 130 more patients (~2.5%) in ICU beds statewide than last Sunday. Can’t make it up. 45 deaths today, in a state with 20 million people,” Berenson wrote.

The data contained in his tweet show that on July 5, 20.5 percent of the state’s hospital ICU beds (1,246) were available. By July 12, that figure had only fallen to 18.94 percent (1,160) beds, despite the massive increase in the number of coronavirus positive tests.

That said, the rapid coronavirus tests themselves are not reliable.

Earlier this month, NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson dropped out of a race at Indianapolis Speedway after testing positive for the virus. But three subsequent tests all came back negative.

In addition, PGA golfer Cameron Champ missed a match after testing positive for the virus, only to test negative three subsequent times.

Jon Dougherty

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