Are hospitals in your city ready for a surge of COVID-19 patients? A look at 4 scenarios

If the novel coronavirus continues to spread widely in the U.S., hospitals in certain parts of the country will be particularly stressed and have far too few beds to treat the influx of patients, according to data released March 17 by the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Based on the data from the Harvard Global Health Institute, ProPublica created maps to show the pressure hospitals across the U.S. would face under several different scenarios. Though most communities in the U.S. lack the number of beds needed to take care of a surge of COVID-19 patients, the scenarios developed by ProPublica show why public health experts are focused on slowing the spread of the virus over a longer period of time.

Scenario 1: 20 percent of adults are infected over 18 months

This is the best-case scenario. Some parts of the country would be able to handle the surge in hospitalizations without freeing up already occupied beds or adding more beds. However, even with cases of COVID-19 spread out over 18 months, hospital beds would be roughly 95 percent full if nothing is done to expand capacity, according to ProPublica. Based on infection rates that occurred in past pandemics, the 20 percent estimate is conservative.

Scenario 2: 20 percent of adults are infected over 12 months

If COVID-19 infected only 20 percent of the adult population over a year, many cities across the U.S. would not have enough beds to treat the influx of patients without adding new beds or displacing other patients, according to ProPublica's analysis.

Scenario 3: 20 percent of adults are infected over 6 months

Even with only 20 percent of the adult population infected, the shorter timeline of six months would put significant pressure on hospitals across the U.S. The model developed by the Harvard Global Health Institute looks at hospital capacity across 306 US hospital markets, or Hospital Referral Regions. If 20 percent of adults were infected over 6 months, most regions would need to free up or add hospital beds, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Scenario 4: 40 percent of adults are infected over 12 months

The Harvard team described a moderate scenario as 40 percent of the adult population contracting COVID-19 over a year. As with the first three scenarios, "flattening the curve," or slowing the spread would be critical if 40 percent of the adult population were infected. 

You can see capacity estimates for each hospital region under different scenarios at ProPublica. Below is a breakdown of the five regions with the largest adult populations under the moderate scenario.

Los Angeles: The influx of patients would require 21,600 beds over a 12-month period, which is 3.3 times the available beds. In this region, intensive care units would be overwhelmed and require additional capacity. Without coronavirus patients, there are 940 available beds on average in ICUs, which is 4.8 times less than what is needed to treat all severe cases.

Houston: The influx of patients would require 14,300 beds over a 12-month period, which is 2.8 times the available beds. In this region, intensive care units would be overwhelmed and require additional capacity. Without coronavirus patients, there are 650 available beds on average in ICUs, which is 4.6 times less than what is needed to treat all severe cases.

Atlanta: The influx of patients would require 13,700 beds over a 12-month period, which is 4.1 times the available beds. In this region, intensive care units would be overwhelmed and require additional capacity. Without COVID-19 patients, there are 440 available beds on average in ICUs, which is 6.7 times less than what is needed to treat all severe cases.

Manhattan: The influx of patients would require 11,500 beds over a 12-month period, which is 3.8 times the available beds. In this region, intensive care units would be overwhelmed and require additional capacity. Without coronavirus patients, there are 620 available beds on average in ICUs, which is 4 times less than what is needed to treat all severe cases.

Boston: The influx of patients would require 11,200 beds over a 12-month period, which is 4.4 times the available beds. In this region, intensive care units would be overwhelmed and require additional capacity. Without coronavirus patients, there are 440 available beds on average in ICUs, which is 5.5 times less than what is needed to treat all severe cases.

Access the data released by the Harvard Global Health Institute here.

Access ProPublica's analysis here.

Access The New York Times' analysis here.

More articles on patient flow:
California turns to vacant hospitals, hotels to prep for surge of COVID-19 patients
Nearly 500 coronavirus ICU beds created in 18 days: How Italy pulled it off
New York to create temporary medical facilities for COVID-19 patients

 

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