According to a report from New York state in 2015, the state would only have about 15% of the ventilators needed to care for patients in a severe pandemic, similar to the 1918 flu outbreak.
The estimates show why protective social distancing measures like quarantining people who come in contact with infected individuals and closing schools and workplaces could be key to keeping the outbreak from overwhelming the US healthcare system.
One graph shows how the measures could help keep the US healthcare system from being overwhelmed. The idea, called #FlattenTheCurve, is going viral.
A chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the importance of protective measures like closing workplaces and canceling large gatherings such as sports games in mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That, in turn, would help stop the virus from overwhelming the US healthcare system.
Never miss out on healthcare news. Subscribe to Dispensed, our weekly newsletter on pharma, biotech, and healthcare.
Why preventive measures could help
The looming threat of shortages of space, materials, and people to care for patients has led to public health officials in other countries taking drastic steps to curb the spread of the virus, placing cities and even whole countries on lockdown.
Without the measures, the healthcare system risks being overrun by patients who need care and not enough supplies to care for them.
For instance, ventilator guidelines for New York state released in 2015 note that there are 7,241 ventilators available, with an additional 1,750 stockpiled. Ventilators are a crucial tool to care for people sickened by the flu or the novel coronavirus, both of which make it hard for patients to breath in severe cases.
Under an extreme influenza pandemic scenario outlined in the document, hospitals in the state would only have about 15% of the ventilators they need to care for patients, assuming ventilators are still being used for other patients not related to the outbreak.
The American Hospital Association, which represents thousands of hospitals and health systems, hosted a webinar in February with its member hospitals and health systems. Business Insider obtained a copy of the slides presented.
As part of the presentation to hospitals, Dr. James Lawler, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center gave his “best guess” estimates of how much the virus might spread in the US.
The estimates include:
4.8 million hospitalizations associated with the novel coronavirus
1.9 million patients requiring care in an intensive care unit
96 million cases overall in the US
There are roughly 95,000 intensive care unit beds in the US. The slide does not give a particular time frame.
In a March letter, professionals coordinating the response in northern Italy wrote that hospitals in the area are seeing a high number of ICU admissions, because of respiratory failure that requires ventilation. About 10% of all patients who’ve tested positive for the virus have been admitted to ICUs, they wrote.