Which is worse – the actual viral infection, or the possibility that we will not be able to take care of the sick?

Although I am worried about the severity of this viral illness, I am heartened to know that the vast majority (in my estimate, over 99%) of patients will have a very mild case of Covid-19 with minimal morbidity.

But, the sudden surge of sick patients into our hospital systems will be so vast that our health care system will NOT be able to take care of all these patients.

We must first understand the existing capacity to fully realize how it will be overwhelmed.

As of March 2020, the US has 925,000 functioning hospital beds.  Our country also has 175,000 ventilators (machines needed to provide “life support” for those with severe respiratory illnesses, such as Covid-19).

If we assume the US population is 350 million, and conservatively assume 25% will get infected, then 88 million will be infected by the virus.

If we also assume that only 1% of the 88 million will be severely ill, requiring ventilator care, then we will require 880,000 ventilators !!  AND, this number is a CONSERVATIVE number.

So, when we hear Dr. Fouci and other health care personnel talk about “self-isolation”, the main purpose of this tactic is NOT to fully stop the infection, but rather to SLOW the spread of the illness — i.e. “flatten the curve”.

I do not think we can prevent the spread of this virus.  But, what we CAN do is delay and slow down the spread, so fewer people need intensive care at any given time.

I have a hard time grasping / understanding the incredulous numbers mentioned above. I truly thought we had more hospital beds.

When i did the math to see how many ventilators we need, it became quite apparent that our health care system is INADEQUATE to handle this pandemic.

Hence, to answer my question above – I am not afraid of the viral infection. But, i am concerned that the health care system, as is, without much action from the federal government, will collapse under the pressure of the pandemic.

Please talk to your friends about these numbers. We should all try to stay healthy to AVOID going to the emergency room unnecessarily.

Stay Safe !

  • Sudhir S. Athni, MD

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