As the U.S. coronavirus death toll topped 350,000 deaths on Jan. 2, the optimism that came with the recent news that several pharmaceutical companies had developed highly effective vaccines for the deadly COVID-19 virus has quickly waned as hospitals in the U.S. and in other countries report they’re at the breaking point.
Adding to the woes of medical personnel and people worldwide fighting for their lives is the slower than expected process of administering the vaccines to those either already hospitalized or most at risk.
And then, there remain reports that in several U.S. states, including Colorado, California and Florida, as well as in nearly a dozen European nations, Asia, Australia and South Africa, a new version of the virus has been detected – 17 mutations at last count according to the World Health Organization.
Daily death rates have surged so precariously, with hospitals unable to keep up with the demand, that several countries, most notably England, Scotland and the city of Tokyo, Japan, have reinstituted lockdowns which prohibit citizens from leaving their homes expect to purchase food or for medical emergencies. Schools have once again been closed as have most businesses.
Meanwhile, like the U.S., many nations find themselves unable to meet their goals of inoculating citizens with the vaccine. In some instances, like in Italy, less than 40 percent of the total population says they are willing to take the vaccine.
In the U.S., during a press conference in Annapolis on Tuesday, Jan. 5, Maryland officials announced that, for now, no variant of the COVID-19 virus has been contracted in the state.
Jinlene Chan, the state’s acting deputy public health secretary, said the spread seems to be occurring due to those traveling from one city or country to another.
Chan said the variant appears to spread easily but there isn’t any evidence it would cause hospitalization, “severe disease, or increase the risk of death,” adding that the current COVID-19 vaccine should be able to fight the variant. Still, Chan noted that more studies continue.
“We are staying extremely vigilant and working very closely with our CDC partners,” she said. “We are conducting the sequencing that is needed to be able to detect the potential variant here in Maryland.”
However, on Jan. 5, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized nationwide shattered the record set during the waning days of 2020, now eclipsing 131,000. Officials state that hospitals in the West and South have seen the highest numbers of hospitalizations.
In some U.S. hospitals, including those in Los Angeles County, ambulance crews have been instructed not to bring patients to hospitals if they believe that the survival of individuals is hopeless. They’ve further been told to treat and declare such patients dead on the scene so as to preserve and maintain hospital capacities.
WI staff writer William J. Ford contributed to this story.