Will COVID-19 overwhelm hospitals near you? 16 things to know

If the novel coronavirus continues to spread widely in the U.S., a lack of hospital beds in certain areas will limit access to necessary care. Some of the states hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak, such as New York and Washington, have low hospital bed availability, making it vital for federal, state and local policymakers to take aggressive action to expand capacity. 

The Urban Institute released a report March 19 that shows availability of unoccupied hospital beds varies significantly across urban and rural areas, states and counties. An analysis by ProPublica and a report in Health Affairs revealed most communities in the U.S. have far too few beds to treat a surge of COVID-19 patients, and analysis by Kaiser Health News shows there's also a shortage of intensive care unit beds in many parts of the country.

Below are 16 things to know about hospital bed capacity in cities, counties and states across the U.S.

Hospital bed availability in the U.S.

1. The U.S. had an estimated 728,000 medical and surgical hospital beds available to the public in 2018, or 2.2 hospital beds per 1,000 people, according to the Urban Institute's analysis.

2. On a typical day, 36 percent of the 728,000 beds were unoccupied, leaving 0.8 beds per 1,000 people.

3. If COVID-19 infected 40 percent of the adult population in a six-month period, there would be a capacity gap of nearly 1.4 million inpatient beds, according to an analysis published by Health Affairs.

4. The U.S. may need 1.9 million intensive care unit beds — 20 times the current amount available — in coming months to treat patients with COVID-19, according to Kaiser Health News, which cited data from the American Hospital Association.

Hospital capacity in individual states

5. Five states — Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Nevada and Rhode Island — have lower than average hospital capacity and rates of unoccupied beds, according to the Urban Institute. 

6. Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming have higher than average hospital capacity.

Hospital bed availability in individual cities

7. According to an analysis published in Health Affairs, the following five cities have the lowest capacity gap in the U.S.:

  • Minot, ND
  • Great Falls, Mont.
  • Meridian, Miss.
  • Grand Forks, ND
  • Oxford, Miss.

8. Based on the analysis, the following five cities have the highest capacity gap:

  • Arlington, Va.
  • Ventura, Calif.
  • Salisbury, Md.
  • Longview, Texas
  • Takoma Park, Md.

9. 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 of data from the Harvard Global Health Institute. Based on infection rates that occurred in past pandemics, the 20 percent estimate is conservative.

10. In a moderate scenario, where 40 percent of the adult population is infected over a year, hospitals in many cities would have far fewer beds than needed to meet demand.

11. The data from the Harvard Global Health Institute shows there would be a significant bed shortage in the three U.S. hospital markets, or Hospital Referral Regions, with the largest adult populations under the moderate scenario.

  • Los Angeles: Patients would require 21,600 beds, which is 3.3 times the available beds.
  • Houston: Patients would require 14,300 beds, which is 2.8 times the available beds.
  • Atlanta: Patients would require 13,700 beds, which is 4.1 times the available beds.

12. The availability of intensive care unit beds varies wildly across the country and within each state. In California, one of the states hit hardest by COVID-19, San Francisco has one ICU bed for every 532 people age 60 or older, while Los Angeles has one bed for every 847 residents age 60 or older.

Hospital bed capacity at the county level

13. Certain counties most affected by COVID-19, such as Westchester County, N.Y., and King County, Wash., have lower than average unoccupied beds per 1,000 residents, according to the Urban Institute.

  • Westchester County, N.Y.: 0.67 unoccupied hospital beds per 1,000 people
  • King County, Wash.: 0.5 unoccupied hospital beds per 1,000 people

14. More than half of counties in the U.S. have no hospital intensive care unit beds, according to Kaiser Health News.

15. In the U.S., 26 million people live in counties that have hospitals but no ICU, and 11 million more people live in counties with no hospital.

16. In counties that rank in the top 10 percent in the U.S. for ICU bed count, there is still only one bed for as many as 450 people.


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