Is your local hospital going to have enough beds for coronavirus patents if everyone gets sick? That’s a question many are wondering. But now there’s a tool that can help answer it. However, the answer as to whether your local hospital can cope depends on multiple factors, such as how much social distancing helps “flatten the curve,” how many beds your local hospital has to begin with, and how widespread the infection becomes in your local area.
Before we get to the tool, it’s important to talk about the variables which decide whether your local hospital has enough beds.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there’s been a lot of talk about the importance of “flattening the curve.” In that term, the “curve” refers to the number of people who will be infected at any given time. The higher any point on the curve, the more people infected at that point in time.
A curve with a dramatic peak—that is, a steep rise and then fall in the number of cases over a short time—is something public health experts want to avoid. Rather, they would prefer to have a shorter peak that continues for a longer time. In other words, they would rather spread the rate of infection out over time instead of getting it over with all in a matter a few weeks.
The reason for this comes down to the ability of healthcare systems to cope. If everyone gets sick all at once, hospitals aren’t going to have the number of beds needed (and other tools) to care for them all. But if everyone takes their turn, so to speak, getting sick over a longer period of time, hospitals don’t need as many beds because the patients aren’t coming in all at once.
To give a math example: If a hospital has 1,000 beds and 5,000 coronavirus patients needing those beds, 4,000 of those patients aren’t going to get beds if everyone is sick during the same time period. But if those same 5,000 coronavirus patents get sick over a longer time frame, say interspaced over six months instead of two weeks, the hospital’s 1,000 beds could be enough for all 5,000 patients. This last example is what happens when you “flatten the curve.”
So, does your local hospital have enough beds to treat everyone? ProPublica’s tool aims to answer that. The tool was built using data released by the Harvard Global Health Institute that shows whether local healthcare systems (made up of multiple hospitals) will have the needed beds should 20%, 40%, or 60% of the population become infected over time periods of 6, 12, or 18 months.
To use the tool, just enter your location in the search box and it will spit out a wealth of data revealing how many beds the local healthcare system has, as well as whether more beds are needed depending on how much the curve can be flattened. For example, by entering New York City as your local healthcare region, ProPublica’s tool says this:
In a moderate scenario where 40% of the population is infected over a 12-month period, hospitals in Manhattan, NY would receive an estimated 345,000 coronavirus patients. The influx of patients would require 11,500 beds over 12 months, which is 3.8 times times the number of available beds in that time period.
Unfortunately, many cities share similar outlooks. That only goes to highlight how important social distancing is so we can flatten the curve as much as possible.