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In what ways could the healthcare system become overwhelmed?

COVID-19 can lead to dehydration, pneumonia, lung inflammation, and septic shock, and about 20 percent of people with COVID-19 require hospitalization. The pressure on the healthcare system is expected to come from people needing treatment, such as intravenous hydration and ventilation.

Early reports from China estimated that about 6 percent of patients needed ventilator support. But only about 25 percent of those who died had been placed on ventilators, suggesting that supply was limiting. Italian physicians recently reported that 10 percent of COVID-19 patients require mechanical ventilation, and Italy may have less than a quarter of the ventilator machines it needs.

US hospitals are taking steps like canceling elective surgeries to free up ventilators that would otherwise be used on sedated patients having procedures like hip replacements, and preparing to move ventilators to hot spots of infection within multi-hospital systems. They are also planning to bring some older models back into use, and the Strategic National Stockpile has 13,000 ventilators that can be deployed as need arises. However, depending on how bad the coronavirus pandemic gets in the US, individual cities could potentially be thousands of ventilators short as patients flood hospitals.

Drafted 18 March 2020

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