Coronavirus cases: These states face biggest potential shortfalls in hospital ICU beds

Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator, speaks during a Coronavirus Task Force news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, April 5, 2020.

Tasos Katopodis | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A significant number of states lack enough intensive care unit beds in their hospitals to deal with a wave of projected coronavirus cases in coming in days and weeks.

The nationwide projected shortfall of 16,232 ICU BEDS — starkly illustrated on a state-by-case basis in charts below — raises chances of a cascade of coronavirus patients overwhelming ICU units and spilling over into other beds in individual hospitals.

As of Monday, 20 states did not have enough ICU beds to handle the peak number of coronavirus cases they are projected to receive, according to a model cited by the White House last week.

And at least seven states lack enough total hospital beds, ICU or otherwise, to handle the projected number of COVID-19 patients coming in the next several weeks, according to that model.

The projection model was created by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research center at UW Medicine, part of the University of Washington.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronvirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, last week mentioned the projections by IHME, developed under its director, Christopher Murray. Birx said that the group’s model had generated the “same numbers” about hospital bed capacity as federal officials had found when they did projections “utilizing actual reporting of cases.”

“If you go on his website, you can see the concern that we had with the growing number of potential fatalities,” Birx added.

IHME’s model, which is updated daily, on Monday projected that 29,210 ICU beds nationally will be needed to deal with the anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients. That is more than double the amount of the expected shortfall of such beds.

For all types of hospital beds, the projection says 140,823 beds will be needed nationwide. That is 36,654 more hospital beds of all kinds than are currently available.

The projected shortfall in hospital beds comes as the White House has estimated that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus.

As of Monday there were nearly 347,003 reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and more than 10,335 reported deaths, though actual numbers in both cases are likely to be much higher.

Also Monday, the internal watchdog of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department issued a report saying that “hospitals reported that their most significant challenges centered on testing and caring for patients with known or suspected COVID-19 and keeping staff safe.”

“Hospitals also reported substantial challenges maintaining or expanding their facilities’ capacity to treat patients with COVID-19,” according to the report by HHS’s Office of the Inspector General.

The same report found that 3 out of every 4 hospitals in the United States are currently treating actual or suspected COVID-19 cases.

The hospital shortfall projected by IHME’s model is particularly dire in New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

That state has the biggest disparity between the current number of ICU beds and projected cases of COVID-19 patients.

New York is on track to hit its peak of projected coronavirus cases requiring ICU care by Wednesday, a week before its neighbor New Jersey is expected to hit its own peak with significantly fewer ICU beds than it might need.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo late last week said that the 2,500-bed temporary hospital set up at the Javits Center in Manhattan — which normally hosts huge trade shows — would accept coronavirus patients to relieve pressure on permanent hospitals in New York City and areas of the state close to the Big Apple.

Previously, the Javits Center was designated to only accept non-coronavirus cases.

On Monday, Cuomo said he will ask President Donald Trump to authorize the 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship Comfort, which is currently docked in Manhattan, to accept COVID-19 patients. The ship currently does not accept patients with the virus.

“We don’t need the Comfort for non-COVID cases, we need it for COVID,” Cuomo said.

Michigan also is on track by Wednesday, according to the model, to have far fewer ICU beds given the number of cases it is expected to be dealing with.

In Detroit, Mich., federal officials have transformed that city’s major convention center into a temporary hospital with 1,000 beds to relieve pressure on other hospitals.

Next week, 10 states are currently projected to hit their coronavirus patient peaks without enough ICU beds to handle the estimated number of cases.

Florida, the model suggests, on April 21 will hit its peak number of cases without sufficient ICU beds.

But Florida’s emergency management chief said Sunday that he has “full confidence” that his state will “be able to meet the ICU capacity” when the peak comes there.

Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, during an interview with WPLG-Ch. 10, said Florida has purchased 4,300 additional hospital beds to meet the demand.

Connecticut also faces a huge shortfall in such beds on the same projected peak day as Florida.

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