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Should we worry about hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID-19 Patients? Libertarian: Nah.

Our friend Donald Boudreaux is at it again, dispensing misleading statistics that just so happen to favor libertarian outcomes.

Two days ago Boudreaux posted some data on hospital capacity that seem to suggest that we do not need to worry about hospitals getting overwhelmed with COVID patients because capacity utilization over time is flat.  As Boudreaux puts it:

The bottom line is that, when broken down to the state level – at least for the period November 4th through December 4th – there is no evidence that hospitals in the U.S. are close to running out of beds for patients.

Of course, there are other possibilities that Boudreaux does not flag for his readers.  For example, to take a wild possibility at random, it may be that hospitals are not admitting as many sick COVID patients as they fill up. 

Ashish Jha in the Washington Post:

What is happening is pretty simple: As hospitals fill up, they are admitting fewer and fewer people. As any doctor or nurse will tell you, as the demand for beds soars, the threshold for admission rises with it. . . .

One theory that some have advanced is that better treatment is leading to fewer hospitalizations or that more testing is identifying milder cases, and that’s why hospitalization rates are dropping. But outpatient treatment of covid has not changed meaningfully in the past month. The most promising potential outpatient treatment, monoclonal antibodies, has yet to see wide usage. Testing has increased, with more than 2 million tests conducted on some recent days, but case numbers and test positive rates have been rising even more steeply, indicating that we are still missing many more cases — especially mild and asymptomatic cases — so there is no evidence that more testing explains the change in rates of hospitalization.

What is happening is that patients who would have been admitted to hospitals earlier in the year are not being admitted now. Indeed, by my best calculation, between a third and half of covid-19 patients who would have been admitted in the beginning of October are now being sent home instead. This is really bad for patients. Some will get much sicker at home. Some may die there.

And from the Grey Lady:

More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds, federal data show, revealing a newly detailed picture of the nation’s hospital crisis during the deadliest week of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Hospitals serving more than 100 million Americans reported having fewer than 15 percent of intensive care beds still available as of last week, according to a Times analysis of data reported by hospitals and released by the Department of Health and Human Services. . . . 

There is some evidence physicians are already limiting care, Dr. Tsai said. For the last several weeks, the rate at which Covid-19 patients are going to hospitals has started decreasing. “That suggests that there’s some rationing and stricter triage criteria about who gets admitted as hospitals remain full,” he said.

We can debate what is happening and how the government should respond.  But Boudreaux just can’t seem to acknowledge that there might, possibly, be a reasonable case for aggressive public health measures to slow the epidemic.  Instead, he keeps the anti-government rhetoric dialed up to 11 (“tyranny!”), and continues to stoke outrage with misleading statistics.  This is especially perverse given the rise in right wing extremism and the fact that vaccines will soon become widely available.