Researchers awarded funding to update model that forecasts U.S. hospital capacity during pandemic

Ashish Jha and Thomas Tsai

May 13, 2020 – New funding from a Massachusetts consortium aimed at combating COVID-19 will enable Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI) researchers to make updated predictions about U.S. hospital capacity during the coming months of the pandemic.

The HGHI project is one of 62 that will receive funding from the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness (MassCPR), a multi-institutional initiative convened by Harvard Medical School in March to fight COVID-19 and to prepare for future outbreaks.

Led by Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Ashish Jha, K.T. Li Professor of Global Health and HGHI director, researchers will update their model, first issued in mid-March and widely disseminated, that estimates hospital intensive care unit (ICU) capacity across the U.S. and points out where potential shortfalls would likely occur. HGHI researchers have used the model to help federal and state officials and private business coalitions plan public health interventions, such as social distancing orders, and infrastructure improvements, such as the production and allocation of ventilators.

With the new funding, HGHI researchers plan to update their estimates of ICU capacity across the U.S; expand their model to include estimates of the capacity of rehabilitation centers, where COVID-19 patients may be cared for after hospitalization; and begin a new survey of the ventilator supply in U.S. hospitals, using current data.

“There will be a need for data-driven models and estimates to help establish the criteria for a phased reopening of the economy that puts public health first, especially as states are beginning to lift social distancing orders,” Tsai said. “This grant will greatly expand our ability to generate the actionable insights to inform federal and state policymakers.”

MassCPR received more than 450 proposals from investigators across the state and awarded more than $16.5 million, in an initial round of funding, to research projects addressing the most pressing challenges of the pandemic and that have a strong likelihood to impact patients within a year.

Read a Harvard Medical School press release about the awards: A Signal Moment

Karen Feldscher