As the coronavirus spreads throughout the US, some health experts are warning that hospitals are not prepared to manage the anticipated number of patients if there is a spike in severe cases.
It’s unclear exactly how many people might need to be hospitalized, but doctors are trying to figure that out as healthcare systems prepare for what could be a large influx of patients.
Here’s one estimate by Dr. James Lawler at the University of Nebraska Medical Center:
On March 5, he predicted that over the next two months, 4.8 million patients will be hospitalized in the US because of the coronavirus — including 1.9 million stays in the intensive care unit.
“This estimation is just that, an estimation,” Lawler said in an emailed statement. “However it is based upon the best epidemiological modeling and opinion of experts in pandemics and respiratory viral disease.”
The US healthcare system will likely struggle. Lawler’s prediction of 4.8 million hospital patients could mean trouble for the US — the entire country doesn’t even have 1 million hospital beds, according to the American Hospital Association.
Of course, this 4.8 million figure wouldn’t all happen at once. Rather, it would be spread out over many weeks, with outbreaks peaking at different times in different communities. Resources will still be severely stretched — but not in all areas at once.
We can still lower these numbers if we act now. Lawler’s estimate “assumes no attempt to lessen the outbreak” — so the numbers can be altered if people follow official guidance like social distancing, avoiding gatherings, and practicing good hygiene, he said.