How do we keep a pulse check on COVID-induced hospital overwhelm?
Researchers monitor strain with a summary metric: % of total hospital beds filled with COVID-19 patients. No metric is perfect, but this one’s pretty darn useful.
And by this measure, things are looking pretty grim in southern hospitals right now.
Here’s the skinny on the stat:
📊 It’s a leading indicator of COVID-19 deaths.
Work led by Drs. Pinar Karaca-Mandic and Dr. Anirban Basu (cite below) demonstrates that when this metric goes up, a rise in COVID-19 deaths follows a week later. The scientific term for this ability to serve as an accurate bellwether is “predictive validity” – and it’s among the most important hallmarks of a good metric.
📊 Rates above 10% trigger concern
From an NPR article last fall:
“Though there’s not a fixed threshold that applies to all hospitals, generally speaking, once COVID-19 hospitalizations exceed 10% of all available beds, that signals an increasing risk that the health care system could soon be overwhelmed, explains [hospital surge capacity expert Dr. Lauren] Sauer.
‘We start to pay attention above 5%,’ says Sauer. ‘Above that, 10% is where we think, ‘Perhaps we have to start enacting surge strategies and crisis standards of care in some places.’’
Crisis standards of care is a broad term for how to prioritize medical treatment when resources are scarce. In the most extreme cases, that can lead to rationing of care based on a patient’s chance of survival.”
Also important: Health care leaders keep an eye on both current bed capacity and trends in new community cases. Today’s exponential growth in cases translates into tomorrow’s hospital overwhelm.
📊 Think global, act local
Recall Tip O’Neill’s famous statement “all politics is local.” It holds for pandemic response, too. A pandemic by definition is a global event, but all outbreak surges are disproportionately felt locally. Consider Osceola County, FL. Over 40% (!!) of hospital beds were filled with COVID patients as of August 16. In stark contrast, the analogous figure was 1% in Suffolk County, MA (Boston-area).
💗 A final Nerdy Girl Note:
Behind the hospital strain statistics are nurses working tirelessly in ICUs, respiratory therapists helping patients battle for breath, custodians preserving sterile environments, doctors sharing devastating news with families. Today at Dear Pandemic, we’re honoring the health care heroes fighting on the frontlines. We see your sacrifices, and we respect them by doing our part to use our SMARTS.
S – Space (More is better)
M – Mask (Keep it on)
A – Airflow (Stay outside or in well-ventilated indoor spaces)
R – Restrict (Keep your social network small)
T – Time (Keep interactions time-limited)
S – Shots (Get vaccinated)
Your Nerdy Girls
IMAGE CREDIT: NPR
This post is an adaptation and update of an earlier DP post, co-authored with Dr. Vinny Arora.