Airlifts and Body Bags. Inside the French Hospital Hit Hardest by Covid-19.
CHAMBÉRY, France—In a wood-paneled boardroom not far from the packed intensive-care unit, the director of France’s hardest-hit hospital this fall gathered his department heads for a Covid-19 crisis meeting. The next 48 hours figured to be decisive. Just like every 48-hour stretch for the past six weeks.
There were struggling patients who needed to be put on small jets to less-crowded facilities around the country. There were nursing students on their way to help plug staff shortages. And there was the relentless high-wire act of keeping just enough beds open for the next day’s Covid-19 arrivals.
“For the hospital, it wasn’t a first crisis and then a second crisis,” said Florent Chambaz, the director of Chambéry’s regional hospital. “It’s been a continuous crisis since February.”
Seven months after the pandemic first peaked in the West, hospitals are once again on the brink. There were 79,410 Covid-19 patients in U.S. hospitals as of Wednesday, a record. In France, that figure has reached 33,000, outstripping the April mark of 32,000. The country’s ICU occupancy rate has reached 94%. And in Italy, the number of people in hospitals last week hit 34,000, exceeding the country’s previous record set on April 4. More than half of all ICU beds in the region of Lombardy, once again Italy’s epicenter, are now occupied by Covid-19 patients.
“The situation,” Mr. Chambaz reminded the staff, “is still very tense.”