US hospitals are scrambling to prepare for a potential surge in coronavirus cases, as one in Washington already reports depleting supplies

US hospitals are scrambling to prepare for a potential surge in coronavirus cases, as one in Washington already reports depleting supplies
coronavirus hospital doctor healthcare workers masks
  • US hospitals are using a variety of tactics to deal with the growing coronavirus outbreak with limited supplies and hospital beds.
  • Some of the measures, like pulling doctors out of retirement, have been used in other COVID-19 impacted countries like Italy.
  • The US only has 2.8 beds for every 1,000 people, while Italy and China have a slightly larger capacity.
  • Some experts estimate that millions of Americans may need hospitalization and that the US is short on need ICU beds and ventilators.
  • Several hospitals have already started setting up "COVID Cabanas" to treat suspected coronavirus cases.
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Hospitals across the country are using multiple approaches to deal with the new coronavirus pandemic as more cases are expected in the US.


According to the Associated Press, hospitals have looked to measures like calling doctors out of retirement, setting up tent units outside their main facilities, and even canceling elective surgery procedures. Governors of New York and Colorado have called on "former" health care professionals to be on reserve if other workers should get sick on the front lines.

The number of cases in the US surpassed 2,300 but some estimates project that millions of Americans could potentially be infected with the new virus that causes COVID-19.

A leaked presentation from a webinar hosted by the American Hospital Association, showed that one expert estimated 96 million Americans could be infected, with 4.8 million needing hospitalization and a little less than 500,000 deaths from the virus.

At least 50 people have died from COVID-19 in the US as of Friday.


Douglas Wise, a former deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Newsweek the US could expect to see a spike in cases similar to what happened in Italy, which could overwhelm the healthcare system.

Italy's Lombardy region, which is the epicenter of the outbreak there, was so strained it began pulling doctors out of retirement and pushed up the graduation date of nursing students so they can help combat the outbreak.

Italian doctors have had to prioritize saving the young and relatively healthy COVID-19 patients because they don't have the capacity, supplies, or hospital beds to treat everyone.

There have been close to 18,000 infections and more than 1,200 deaths in Italy.

Back in the US, experts also said hospitals are short on needed ICU rooms and supplies.


The US has 2.8 beds for every 1,000 people, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported, compared to Italy's 3.2 and China's 4.3.

"What is happening in Italy can happen here. There is no question," Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, told Newsweek.

According to a Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins report from last month, the US has 160,000 ventilators ready for use in hospitals, and another 8,900 held in a national reserve. However it's estimated that almost one million Americans may need a ventilator during the course of the outbreak.

Some hospital doctors are worried they'll have to "ration" medical care if the outbreak gets worse, the AP reported.

The US has 95,000 ICU beds but Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University's national center for disaster preparedness, told Reuters that if a "full-blown outbreak" were to occur, the US would be short 75,000 to 100,000 ICU beds.


"Normally they wouldn't pay attention to available beds and personnel in civilian hospitals, but they would during a global medical crisis," Wise told Newsweek.

According to the AP, some patients could end up waiting on stretchers in the hallways of emergency rooms as they wait for an open bed or sharing rooms with other COVID-19 patients.

Canceling things like elective procedures can reduce the strain on the hospital. According to The New York Times, most hospitals have disaster preparedness plans in place for several situations including new infectious disease. Other initiatives they may take to expand their ability to meet the demands of this outbreak include sending patients home earlier or renting space in other facilities for makeshift hospital rooms.

Hospitals are already facing shortages of supplies and other obstacles in providing care for the anticipated growing number of COVID-19 cases, the Times reported.

C. Ryan Keay, the medical director of the emergency department at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington, where the largest outbreak in the country is unfolding told The Times that their hospital is always full, and "it doesn't take much to tip us over the edge."


Keay explained that other medical procedures in the hospital could be affected by the influx of coronavirus patients. For example, x-ray rooms have to close for 30 minutes after a someone gets a chest x-ray so they can be sanitized. When a lot of patients need x-rays, there are delays.

Keay also told The Times that the need to sanitize facilities used by suspected COVID-19 cases to CDC standards also slows down the process.

Gabrield Cade, a doctor at Blue Ridge Regional, told the AP that what happened in Italy was a "huge eye-opener."

"We've really got to ... expect that this is going to be bad," Cade told the AP.