Coronavirus

Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) show that in mid- to late December, some Louisville-area hospitals were already experiencing strain on their ICUs. 

Four of six hospitals in Louisville and Southern Indiana were at 6% or less capacity for ICU beds, shown in weekly numbers collected by HHS Dec. 16 and 23. 

And Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health, said U of L has seen a big increase in patients with COVID-19 since then. 

He said Monday there were around 120 people with COVID hospital-wide. That’s compared with around 70 at Christmas and 35 just before Thanksgiving. 

“Really, the big numbers have started to come in the time after Christmas and just after the New Year’s holiday,” he said, adding that health officials have also “started to see a much higher demand for tests.”

The increase in hospital stays comes as Indiana, Kentucky and Jefferson County specifically have reported positivity rates and daily case counts higher than at any other time during the pandemic. 

The infection rates are also affecting hospital staffing. Smith said that at the start of the week, there were around 400 staff out due to testing positive or quarantining as they await test results. 

“That’s impacting our overall … abilities we have as a health care system,” he said. “All the things that you’re seeing in the community are also affecting us.”

Health officials have seen early signs that the omicron variant doesn’t cause as severe illness as delta does, especially in people who are fully vaccinated and boosted. 

But the number of new cases alone means an influx to hospitals. 

“Even though many people are getting [COVID] that had a vaccine, they’re not getting severely ill,” Smith said. “It’s just the overall numbers and that’s what’s pushing and driving the numbers to the hospital overall.”

And Smith expects those to rise in the coming weeks. 

“I think over the next 4-6 weeks you’re going to see a significant rise in the number of cases beyond even what we have right now,” he said. “I think it will stay in plateau for a period of time and then drop.”

 

Aprile Rickert is WFPL's health reporter.