Data shows where COVID-19 cases are spiking
By Lazaro Gamio, Sarah Mervosh and Keith Collins
At overflowing hospitals in South Texas, patients wait hours in sweltering ambulances and on recliner beds set up in hallways. The number of patients intubated in hospital beds in Tampa, Florida, is growing by the day. In Corpus Christi, Texas, a mobile morgue has arrived.
About as many people are now known to be hospitalized with the coronavirus in the United States as during any other time in the pandemic, matching the previous peak in April.
Public health experts say detailed local data on where people are hospitalized — a real-time measure that does not depend on levels of testing — is crucial to understanding the epidemic, but federal officials have not made this data public. The New York Times gathered data for nearly 50 metropolitan areas, including 15 of the 20 largest cities in the country, using state and local health department data to provide the first detailed national look at where people are falling seriously ill.
The data, as well as interviews across the country, show a widening crisis. The worst-hit areas in Texas and Florida have approached the peak rates of hospitalization that New York, New Orleans, Chicago and other cities hit in the spring. A wide and growing expanse of hot spots around the country — including Las Vegas, Nashville, Tennessee, and Tulsa, Oklahoma — have worsened over the past two weeks.
Not every hospital system is overwhelmed, and new treatments have improved the chances of survival for seriously ill people. But experts say a small but significant proportion of those currently hospitalized will die, and those who survive may face serious long-term health issues.
Months ago, the endless wail of ambulances in New York City conveyed the urgency of the virus outbreak in a concentrated area. Now, the scale of the crisis is dispersed and harder to grasp.
“There’s this pandemic fatigue,” said Thomas Tsai, an assistant professor of health policy at Harvard University. “All eyes were on New York. Houston is New York now. Miami is New York now. Phoenix is New York now. We need that shared collective urgency.”
New York City, at peak: No place comes close to matching New York City’s sheer numbers: At its hospitalization peak in mid-April, more than 12,000 New Yorkers were hospitalized at one time.
New Orleans, at peak: Some places today look more like New Orleans, an early epicenter that at one point had about 1,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients.
Rio Grande Valley, Texas: This region on the southern border of Texas most likely has the worst rate of hospitalizations in the country. Hospitals are full. Moving from bed to bed, medical workers wrapped in protective layers yell over blaring alarms. Nurses softly soothe dying patients. There is little time to grieve. A new patient fills an emptied bed.
Corpus Christi, Texas: At least 87 people have died from the coronavirus in the past three weeks; as recently as the end of June, only eight people had. “The movie that you never wanted to be living in — that’s what it’s like,” said Annette Rodriguez, the county’s public health director.
Victoria, Texas: Of the top 10 places The Times found with the most severe coronavirus hospitalization rates, six are in Texas.
Miami: “Your hospitals are drowning,” Carlos Migoya, chief executive of Jackson Health System, the largest public hospital in Miami, wrote in an op-ed in The Miami Herald. “We are teetering on the edge of disaster.”
Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Several areas in Florida, including the Fort Lauderdale region, are under nightly curfews to slow spread of the virus.
Chicago, at peak: The number of coronavirus patients in Chicago is now less than a third of what it was at its peak.
Jacksonville, Florida: President Donald Trump is expected to formally accept his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville next month. Of the top 20 metro regions The Times found with the most severe hospitalization rates, seven were in Florida.
Imperial County, California: Imperial County, home to many food-processing workers and farmworkers on the California-Mexico border, became the first county in California to revert to a stay-at-home order this month as cases soared with positive test rates four times the state average.
Houston: The number of newly hospitalized patients in the Houston area is down slightly in recent days, but the county is still home to the most coronavirus patients in Texas. More than 2,200 people with the virus are in hospitals.
San Antonio: “Things are worse than they’ve ever been,” said Nelson Wolff, the county judge for San Antonio’s Bexar County, which had more COVID-19 patients die in 10 days this month than during the first three months of the pandemic. “I had two friends die within a week.”
Lafayette, Louisiana: At the beginning of the crisis, New Orleans was at the center of Louisiana’s coronavirus outbreak. Now, New Orleans is doing relatively well, while cities like Lafayette are seeing sharp increases.
Orlando, Florida: Inside hospitals in Orlando’s Orange County this week, the number of COVID-19 patients was the highest it has been during the pandemic. Outside, Disney World had reopened, and SeaWorld was splashing again. It is one of the jarring contrasts in a crisis that is now spread widely and sometimes hard to see.
Arizona: Arizona is one of several states with hot spots that did not provide local data, making it difficult to know the precise hospital situation in Phoenix, a center of the crisis. Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have leveled off in recent days, offering hope that measures like mask mandates and the closure of gyms, bars and nightclubs are working.
Tampa, Florida: The number of patients who need to be intubated at Tampa General Hospital keeps growing. “We’ve gone from single digits to double digits, basically every day,” said Dr. Andrew Myers, an internist at the hospital.
Las Vegas: “We are really worried,” said Sara Kalaoram, whose mother, a guest room attendant at a Las Vegas hotel, is hospitalized with the virus and on oxygen. Kalaoram, her father and her teenage brother have also tested positive.
Mississippi: COVID-19 patients make up 33% of ICU beds in Mississippi, up from 18% in June.
Los Angeles: Los Angeles County has surpassed its previous peak of coronavirus patients from earlier this year, though fewer patients are in intensive care, a pattern experts say may reflect improvements in treatment.
Oklahoma City: “Every metric is heading in the wrong direction,” said Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. Hospitalizations have been on the rise across Oklahoma, but the situation is most pressing around Oklahoma City.
Tulsa, Oklahoma: The Tulsa City Council adopted a mask order last week, in part due to rising hospitalizations.
Chicago: The number of coronavirus patients in Chicago is now less than a third of what it was at its peak, though recent upticks led Mayor Lori Lightfoot to close bars for indoor use once again.
Philadelphia: “We are hoping we don’t see a huge spike again,” said Gregory Burrell, the funeral director at Terry Funeral Home, Inc., a funeral home in Philadelphia that handled dozens of funerals for people who died of the virus in April and May. So far this month, he said he had handled about five such funerals.
New York City: New admissions for the coronavirus in New York City have dropped to a few dozen a day, down from more than 1,000 people a day in late March and early April. Statewide, hospitalizations from the virus are at their lowest since March 18.
New Haven, Connecticut: Connecticut, like New York, has seen significant improvements since the spring, but there are still seriously ill people. Statewide, 62 people were hospitalized with the virus as of this week, down from a high of nearly 2,000 in April.