Elon Musk reckons the ‘Coronavirus panic is dumb’. Several others have criticised the panic reaction of bringing normal activity to a halt as a significant drag on the economy which could have bigger ramifications on people’s lives through loss of livelihood and related stress. However, this article provides a practical reason to adopt ‘social distancing’ – “closing schools, canceling mass gatherings, working from home, self-quarantine, self-isolation, avoiding crowds — to keep the virus from spreading fast.” Keeping the virus from spreading obviously buys time for the world to come up with a cure or a vaccine but a more serious benefit from the here and now is easing the pressure on the healthcare system. The gut wrenching stories from Italy about how doctors have had to choose among patients that they would rescue and those that would be left to die simply because there weren’t enough ventilators should be reason enough to adopt measures of ‘social distancing’ with utmost seriousness. Here’s some math about the capacity of the US Healthcare system. One would shudder to imagine what the equivalent arithmetic for India will be.
“There are serious concerns about the US system’s capacity to handle a severe outbreak. Covid-19 is a respiratory illness and in its most serious stages can require patients with pneumonia to be put on a ventilator. But there might not be enough ventilators to meet that need if the outbreak becomes too widespread.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security reported in 2018 that, according to US government estimates, about 65,000 people in the United States would require ventilation in an outbreak similar to the flu pandemics of 1957-1958 (which killed 116,000 people in the US) and 1968 (which killed 100,000 Americans).
The maximum number of ventilators that could be put in the field in the United States is about 160,000. So under those scenarios, there would theoretically be enough capacity to meet the need.
But if the coronavirus outbreak gets worse, we could quickly run out. In a situation more similar to the Spanish flu pandemic (675,000 dead in the US), about 742,500 people in the United States would require ventilation, according to government estimates. We don’t have that many.
The health system is much more than ventilators, of course, and the concerns about capacity apply to the rest of it, too. As HuffPost’s Jonathan Cohn reported, US hospitals have about 45,000 beds in their intensive care units. In a moderate outbreak, about 200,000 patients may need to be put in the ICU, but under a more severe outbreak, it could be nearly 3 million.”
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