Intensive care units, or ICUs, are specialized hospital wards set up to provide close monitoring and critical treatment for seriously ill patients. ICUs have fewer patients but more staff in order to provide nearly one-on-one care.
There are just over 91,000 intensive care beds in hospitals across the United States, and all are expected to get filled as the coronavirus pandemic worsens. 24/7 Tempo analyzed processed records from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to determine the states with the most and fewest ICU beds per capita.
Nationwide, the average number of ICU beds per 10,000 people is 2.7. This figure ranges between one bed per 10,000 people in the state with the fewest ICU beds per capita to almost four per 10,000 people in the state with the most ICU beds per capita.
Though most COVID-19 patients recover on their own, the novel coronavirus can attack the lungs, causing people to have difficulties breathing. In severe cases, patients need to be hospitalized, sometimes in ICU with a portion requiring the aid of ventilators to breathe. As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise nationwide, so will the need for hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of April 6, 2020, the COVID-19 associated hospitalization rate was 4.6 per 100,000 people nationwide, with the highest rates in persons 65 years and older (13.8 per 100,000) and 50-64 years (7.4 per 100,000). These rates are similar to the spike in hospital visits seen at the beginning of an annual influenza epidemic.
Hospitals all over the country have been pushed to their limits because of the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 patients — the number of people hospitalized can double in just over a night in more populous cities. Hospitals have had to get creative to find solutions to the bed shortage. New York, for example, is merging all its hospitals into one big hospital system to battle the coronavirus by sharing all of their resources, including ICU beds.
The shortage of ICU beds is compounded by the projected shortage of ventilators. While not all patients in the ICU with coronavirus will need a ventilator to help them breathe, there is still a severe shortage of ventilators, especially in some states, that is needed to fight the projected wave of coronavirus cases in the coming weeks. There are close to 22,000 new COVID-19 cases a day across the country.