With coronavirus infections on the rise again in the U.S., hospitals across the country are trying to meet the needs of thousands of patients who are testing positive for COVID-19, and are in need of medical care.
One state that has seen a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has been Nevada, where case levels have swelled by nearly 200% in the last month, the state's highest level since February, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Basically, we're reliving 2020 in 2021," Dr. Angie Honsberg, medical director for the intensive care unit at University Medical Center told ABC News. "We, unfortunately, are back to having a very high number of COVID patients. We have had a break for the last two and a half months and unfortunately, now we're back to feeling like we were back in January in February when close to half of our ICU was critically ill patients with COVID respiratory failure."
Since mid-June, the average number of patients being admitted to the hospital each day with COVID-19 in Nevada has tripled, according to the CDC. This marks the highest number of patients seeking care in more than five months.
Although hospitalization levels in Nevada and nationwide remain significantly lower than at their peak in January, as of Wednesday, 38 states and territories are reporting an increase of 10% or more in hospital admissions over the last week, with nearly 22,000 patients hospitalized around the country, the CDC said.
In light of the state's recent viral resurgence, Nevada joined a growing list of states on Chicago's travel advisory list, which will require travelers to either quarantine for 10 days or present a negative COVID-19 test result.
The majority of the state's infections, according to the CDC, appear to be coming from Clark County, home to Las Vegas, where cases have been steadily increasing since June. In the last week, hospital admissions there have increased by more than 16%.
"Sadly, we're reliving a lot of what we experienced last year, in the recent weeks," Dr. Luis Medina-Garcia, an infectious disease physician at UMC, told ABC News. "As businesses reopened, and there's more traffic of tourists to our city, this increased exposure has resulted in new cases of COVID-19 almost exclusively in the unvaccinated population."
Thus, with cases increasing, last week, the Southern Nevada Health District also announced it would recommend both unvaccinated and vaccinated people wear masks in crowded indoor public places, "where they may have contact with others who are not fully vaccinated."
Health experts say the likely driving force behind the significant increase in cases across the country has been the highly infectious delta variant, which is now estimated to account for more than 83% of all new cases.
Although it is still unknown whether the delta variant is potentially more dangerous, this strain of the virus is more efficient at transmitting the disease, and Honsberg said it appears to more virulent, with patients becoming sicker faster.
"The current group of patients seems to get sick quicker than the patients that we saw with the earlier COVID outbreak and we're also seeing, for the most part, a younger group of patients," Honsberg said.
Some of the patients have very severe pneumonia, Honsberg added.
A similar message is conveyed by Robin Ringler, charge nurse in UMC's Medical ICU, who said that the patients she is seeing in the ICU are very sick, many struggling to breathe, and on ventilators.
In fact, she said, some of these patients are so sick "that the doctors currently are talking about doing tracheostomy on them, and that is going to keep them on the ventilator for prolonged periods of time because they cannot breathe on their own."
Ringer's team is now anticipating more COVID-19 ICU admissions, with a growing number of COVID patients appearing in the emergency room.
"In the last two weeks, we've had a real increase in COVID infections in the hospital. Our COVID numbers have gone up so high. They've almost, I think they quadrupled from two weeks ago," Ringler said. "The number of patients seeking treatment has been getting higher every week."
The increases are a discouraging development, said Ringler, when vaccines were introduced, and cases began to decline, her team thought they may have been finally out of the woods.
According to the White House COVID-19 Task Force, nearly all of these patients, 97%, are unvaccinated.
Just 43% of Nevada residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, "which is a growing concern for us, when our data shows that about 85% of our COVID-19 patients are without a history for vaccination," added Alma Angeles, director of Critical Care Services at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas.
"We've had many patients that have told us that they wish they had been vaccinated. Sadly, it's too late by the time they get to us," Dr. Luis Medina-Garcia, an Infectious Disease Physician at UMC, told ABC News. "The death toll from this disease is unbearable. It is unspeakable the loss of life, health, and outcomes that we have had to go through. It's just sad to see people getting sick, for no good reason."