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US hospitals not equipped for COVID-19 volume: Expert

US has 'very low' ranking in hospital beds per capita, while 1 in 5 citizens may need hospitalization for virus

Beyza Binnur Dönmez   | 12.03.2020
US hospitals not equipped for COVID-19 volume: Expert FILE PHOTO


One in five Americans might need to be hospitalized amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak, and the U.S. does not have enough hospital beds, according to a Harvard epidemiologist. 

"The U.S. has actually a very, very low ranking in terms of hospital beds per capita, as many of you know. Have you ever tried to get a hospital bed? It's really difficult to even in the best of times, our hospital beds and ICC [ Intensive Care Consortium] systems are not equipped for the volume of cases," Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding told ABC News on Wednesday.

"Considering that one in five individuals may need hospitalization and one in 20 would actually need potentially ICU [Intensive Care Unit]," said Feigl-Ding. "And in the states with a lot of the health care inequalities, I'm really worried about that."

Asked if the U.S. is likely to see a rise in infection rates to rival numbers in Italy, he said the country "could see pockets of outbreaks in certain cities that overwhelms certain city hospitals."

He warned the U.S. is potentially three or four weeks behind Italy if it does not flatten the coronavirus curve.

On social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, Feigl-Ding said, municipalities and school districts may think the U.S. needs more "draconian measures," like in Italy, where all businesses closed, not including pharmacies and grocery store, but he noted Washington state banned major events of 250 people, however, it permitted smaller events and schools are open, for now.

"We're not there yet. Hopefully, if we contain fast enough, we won't have to get there," he said. "But this epidemic is definitely coming. And definitely, it might soon be a 50-state epidemic in the near future unless we do something of our containment.”

His evaluations were made hours after the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Anthony Fauci, said coronavirus is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu, an assessment Feigl-Ding called "a conservative estimate," estimating "the mortality could be as low as 1% to as high as perhaps 3%. And maybe higher, depending on if it overwhelms the healthcare system, like Lombardy, Italy right now has an 8% mortality, because their health systems’ overwhelmed."

He emphasized not to hit those kinds of "bad levels," speed of tests, doing social distancing and containment of public events are "really critical."

Speaking at the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee, Fauci said Wednesday: "The flu has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent. This has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That’s the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this,"

He stressed that the U.S. will see more cases and things will "get worse than they are right now."

"How much worse we'll get will depend on our ability to do two things to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country," he said. "Bottom line, it's going to get worse."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warned "as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point in time either this year or next to be exposed to this virus and there’s a good chance many will become sick."

The virus originated in Wuhan, China last December and has since spread to more than 100 countries.

The death toll in the U.S. has reached 30, while 1,323 cases are confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The worldwide death toll from the virus exceeds 4,600, with more than 124,500 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has declared the outbreak a global pandemic.

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