A longer coronavirus outbreak is the best outcome for the health care system
It may be counterintuitive, but it's actually better if the novel coronavirus outbreak lasts awhile in the U.S., public health experts say.
Between the lines: If everyone who is going to get sick does so at once, it would overwhelm the health care system, putting all of us — not just those with the coronavirus — at risk.
- "Time is our friend. The longer we can spread things out, the better it is," said Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The big picture: There are only so many hospital beds in the U.S., and around 70–75% of them are occupied at any given time, Jha said.
- If around 30–40% of Americans end up infected with the coronavirus over only a few months, the hospital-bed math just doesn't work.
- On the other hand, if we can contain the virus's spread so that it takes 12 to 18 months to work its way through the population, "then we have a shot at not completely overwhelming the health care system," Jha said.
The good news: That's why public health officials keep talking about social distancing — it can prevent this bottleneck effect.
- "If we don't do it, you'll have tens of thousands of people dying because they cannot get hospital care. To me, it's not a close call which is worse," Jha said.
The bottom line: The coronavirus may affect our daily lives for a long time — and that may be a good thing.
Go deeper: How to beat back the coronavirus