More ICU capacity still needed in U.S. for COVID-19 patients

As the U.S. begins to reopen its economy, hospital intensive care units (ICUs) across the country still need more capacity to handle new COVID-19 cases, according to a new analysis from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers and colleagues.

The study, published May 6, 2020 in JAMA Network Open, estimated that some U.S. cities could need as many as 4.4 ICU beds per 10,000 adults. The U.S. currently has approximately 2.8 ICU beds per 10,000 adults.

For their analysis, study co-author Ruoran Li, a Harvard Chan School doctoral student, and colleagues analyzed data on ICU bed use in two Chinese cities, Wuhan and Guangzhou, at the peak of COVID-19 outbreaks in each, and used that information to estimate what the ICU bed needs would be in the U.S. if disease transmission were similar to Wuhan’s, where the outbreak was worse. They considered factors relevant to the U.S., such as the prevalence of high blood pressure, and age of the population, both of which have been linked with severe illness in COVID-19 patients.

“Even after the lockdown of Wuhan on January 23, the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients continued to rise, exceeding local hospitalization and ICU capacities for at least a month,” Li said in a UPI article. “Without efforts to slow the spread of the virus, hospitals, especially ICU beds in major cities around the U.S., will likely be overwhelmed.”

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and senior author of the study, said, “The data I’ve seen from China indicates that patients stay in intensive care for quite a long time with this disease, so it’s not just the number of people in intensive care, but the duration of their stay” that could overwhelm the system.

Read the UPI article: U.S. ICUs could still be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, analysis says