New coronavirus data projections paint grim picture for U.S. hospitals, potentially "relegating some patients to death"

Coronavirus study projects grim picture

A new data projection of the U.S's best-case coronavirus scenario, where 20% of adults are infected over 18 months, paints a picture of strained hospitals operating at 95% capacity. The very worst-case scenario, with 60% infected over a six-month span, would mean the U.S. could need more than seven times the number of available hospital beds than it currently has.

The ProPublica review of data from Harvard's Global Health Institute shows that even if 20% of adults were infected, but in the much-shorter six month window, some hospitals would quickly run out of resources to treat those who are expected to need it.

"The data says that if we fail to act, if we go with the status quo, we are going to be in a lot of trouble - that most hospitals in most communities are going to end up getting overwhelmed," Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute said.

He told CBS News' Anna Werner that "we're all going to have to work together" through this national emergency.

"Every mayor, every governor has to be asking themselves, are they going to be part of the solution or are they going to be part of the problem?" He said.

ProPublica Deputy Managing Editor Charles Ornstein said one major goal for medical experts is avoiding a situation similar to Italy's, where doctors in the worst-hit regions are reported to have received guidance to only treat patients "deemed worthy of intensive care."

"When you look at this data, the one thing that becomes crystal clear is that it is essential that we slow down this pandemic and that we try to stretch it out over as long a period as possible," Ornstein said.

Otherwise, he said, "doctors and hospitals are going to be forced to make decisions they didn't go into medicine for... And essentially, that's going to be relegating some patients to death" in the case of strained resources.

Though projections say the worst is yet to come, hospitals around the country are already preparing to operate over-capacity. At the Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in Long Island, New York, workers set up tents to test people for coronavirus.

The large hospital has 437 beds, with 64 in the intensive care unit. On any given day, 80 to 85% of the ICU beds are full, already limiting capacity for any influx of coronavirus patients.

Patrick O'Shaughnessy, a high-level administrator at Catholic Health Services which runs Good Samaritan, said that some of the things they were doing included limiting "less severe acute interventions within the hospital."

"So things that could be done on an elected basis, perhaps are going to be delayed or cancelled to free up capacity," he said. "This is going to be more of a marathon and not a sprint."