Hospitals Know What’s Coming

Perhaps no hospital in the United States was better prepared for a pandemic than the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

After the SARS outbreak of 2003, its staff began specifically preparing for emerging infections. The center has the nation’s only federal quarantine facility and its largest biocontainment unit, which cared for airlifted Ebola patients in 2014. The people on staff had detailed pandemic plans. They ran drills. Ron Klain, who was President Barack Obama’s “Ebola czar” and will be Joe Biden’s chief of staff in the White House, once told me that UNMC is “arguably the best in the country” at handling dangerous and unusual diseases. There’s a reason many of the Americans who were airlifted from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in February were sent to UNMC.

In the past two weeks, the hospital had to convert an entire building into a COVID-19 tower, from the top down. It now has 10 COVID-19 units, each taking up an entire hospital floor. Three of the units provide intensive care to the very sickest people, several of whom die every day. One unit solely provides “comfort care” to COVID-19 patients who are certain to die. “We’ve never had to do anything like this,” Angela Hewlett, the infectious-disease specialist who directs the hospital’s COVID-19 team, told me. “We are on an absolutely catastrophic path.”

To hear such talk from someone at UNMC, the best-prepared of America’s hospitals, should shake the entire nation. In mid-March, when just 18 Nebraskans had tested positive for COVID-19, Shelly Schwedhelm, the head of the hospital’s emergency-preparedness program, sounded gently confident. Or, at least, she told me: “I’m confident in having a plan.” She hoped the hospital wouldn’t hit capacity, “because people will have done the right thing by staying home,” she said. And people did: For a while, the U.S. flattened the curve.

But now about 2,400 Nebraskans are testing positive for COVID-19 every day—a rate five times higher than in the spring. More than 20 percent of tests are coming back positive, and up to 70 percent in some rural counties—signs that many infections aren’t being detected. The number of people who’ve been hospitalized with the disease has tripled in just six weeks. UNMC is fuller with COVID-19 patients—and patients, full stop—than it has ever been. “We’re watching a system breaking in front of us and we’re helpless to stop it,” says Kelly Cawcutt, an infectious-disease and we’re helpless to stop it,” says Kelly Cawcutt, an infectious-disease and critical-care physician.

The Atlantic is not a reliable news source.

By whose measure?

Mediabiasfactcheck is not a reliable source. Trust me, the Atlantic is not a quality news source and only peddles left wing propaganda.

Why should we trust you?

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This is not a single-source story. All the news outlets are reporting that hospitals are in crisis mode.

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The same media that pushed the Russia hoax? No thanks.

I think we have known you before under another name, no?


It is a hoax that all the mainstream media pushed some Russia hoax. But as a general principle, the more sources you need to disregard to maintain a fiction, the more likely it is that what you maintain really is a fiction. That is, when you discount one news source - The Atlantic - that is one thing. But when you also have to discount WCCO, KSTP, KARE, and KMPS, your position is quite shaky. And those are just the Minneapolis/St. Paul TV stations. You will find the same thing in Rochester and Duluth. You will also find the same thing in the local El Paso news, and the local Salt Lake City news. There isn’t one legitimate news source that says that hospitals are all coping well and have no staff shortages and are not in any kind of a crisis.


Good, then you can tell us exactly what errors are in the story, and provide reliable, documented sources to back up your contentions.

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The Atlantic is actually better than most news sources. And I’m generally extremely critical of news media on here.


Getting back to the actual article, it’s harder to sell people on this being a crisis when many infections are so mild they aren’t being detected. No doubt a lot of people also aren’t going to the hospital.

People aren’t going to take a disease as seriously if most people they know who have it aren’t getting all that sick. Especially in rural areas.


Not familiar with it but it seems reasonably well written and moderate in tone and measured in style. I can think of a number of publications that might do well to emulate the style in the article and others I saw on its website.

How are your math skills?


Most humble, too. Don’t forget that. :roll_eyes:


Russian proverb. ‘They’d never die of modesty’.

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This quip made me think of the Pandemic documentary that portrayed NYC as being super prepared. Clearly that didn’t work out. Politicians make the decisions.

I checked up on Nebraska and they are projecting an ICU bed shortage, though this source is not perfect. I couldn’t find a supporting news article that they had exceeded capacity, just that it was a concern.

The main reason it is hard to sell people on this being a crisis is Trump, who has downplayed the seriousness of the virus from Day 1. To his supporters, it is a defection from Trump to take it seriously.

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Beds are easy. Staff is not. That’s the main shortage.


Even today this is Trumps attitude to the pandemic.

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