Hospitals throughout the south are experiencing shortages of oxygen as their intensive care units are inundated with COVID-19 patients including increasing amounts of children and other young people. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Hospitals are once again inundated with COVID-19 patients, including growing numbers of children, as the more infectious Delta variant sweeps through the country.
On Saturday, Florida had the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the country at 75 patients per 100,000 residents according to federal health officials and Johns Hopkins University. On Friday, state data also showed that the state had hit another pandemic high in COVID-19 toal cases at 690.5 new cases daily per 100,000 people from Aug. 20 to Aug. 26.
Since the start of the pandemic the United States has reported 38,776,138 COVID-19 infections and 637,343 people have died as a result of the virus, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.
The United States also reported 7,214 deaths in the past, the most in the world, according to Worldometers.info, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a seven-day moving daily case average of 176,742 as of Friday.
States experiencing the greatest surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations including Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana have experienced oxygen scarcity, forcing some to utilize their reserve supply to avoid running out of oxygen, state health officials and hospital consultants told CNN.
"Normally an oxygen tank would be about 90% full and the suppliers would let them get down to a refill level of 30-40% left in their tank, giving them a three- to five-day cushion of supply," Donna Cross, senior director of facilities and construction at health care performance and improvement company Premier. "What's happening now is that hospitals are running down to about 10-205, which is a one- to two-day supply on hand before they're getting backfilled."
Dr. Ahmed Elhaddad, an intensive care doctor in Florida, also told CNN he's seen more severe lung damage, quicker death and younger patients as a result of the Delta variant.
"This round, we're seeing the younger patients -- 30, 40, 50-year-olds -- and they're suffering. They're hungry for oxygen and they're dying. Unfortunately, this round they're dying faster," Elhaddad said.
In Louisiana, the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital New Orleans has been increasingly filled with children as the hospital has admitted about 70 COVID-19 patients this month, The New York Times reported.
Of those 70 patients, about half were 12 and older and eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but only one was fully vaccinated and staff said most became ill after being exposed to parents, family members and friends who were unvaccinated and not wearing masks.
Mark Melancon, a nurse at the hospital said he has had to "make peace with that people are not doing what they're supposed to" to prevent infection.
"I can't tell them, 'Why didn't you isolate this kid?'" Melancon said. "So we just tell them, 'Your kid has COVID. It's really hard on the lungs. Your child's very sick. We'll do everything we can to get him better."
Coronavirus hospitalizations in the United States were 99,775 which represents 12.94% of the total beds, according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. Florida has the most at 15,778 (27.53%) with Texas at 14,423 (20.72%). New York, which was the epicenter a year ago, has 2,604 hospital beds filled with COVID-19 patients (5.22%)
According to the CDC, a total of 173,520,211 people are fully vaccinated, representing 61.2% of the eligible population, including children aged 12 and older. Additionally, 72% of the eligible population has received at least one dose, while 61.6% have at least begun their vaccine regimen and 52.3% are fully vaccinated.
The increase in pediatric cases comes as children, many too young to be vaccinated return to school.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday told NBC News' Meet the Press that schools can still take measures to prevent infection among unvaccinated students.
"You surround the children with people who are eligible to be vaccinated and who get vaccinated," Fauci said. "Teachers, school personnel, the students form 12 and older who are eligible to be vaccinated right now, get them vaccinated."
He added it is also important to abide by CDC recommendations such as requiring masks in school settings, although governors in Florida and Texas have passed laws to prevent such mandates.
"When you try to get mandating of masks, there's pushback from certain authorities, which I feel is really unfortunate because it's going to really endanger the health of the children when we do that," said Fauci.
Fauci also told CNN's State of the Union the United States continues to plan to begin rolling out COVID-19 booster shots for people eight months past completing their initial vaccine regimen beginning Sept. 20.
He added, however, we remain flexible regarding the time frame," leaving open the possibility for decreasing the wait time to five months pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
"The FDA and then ultimately the ACIP is going to look at the risk/benefit ratio," Fauci said. "There is no doubt in my mind that we need to give individuals who received the two doses of mRNA a third boost. There's no doubt based on the data we have seen. We're now working out how to do that in an expeditious way, rolling it out so that it's done in a way that we get as many people vaccinated who need the boost."