Jun 16, 2020 - Health

Why the U.S. didn't run out of hospital beds for coronavirus patients

A doctor at a temporary field hospital in California.

A doctor at a temporary field hospital in Washington, D.C. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

As the coronavirus really began to take hold in the U.S. earlier this year, experts warned that hospitals would soon be overrun with patients — but health systems never ran out of beds, even in New York City.

Between the lines: The hospitalization rate was much lower than predicted, ProPublica reports.

  • Data from Wuhan, China, suggested that about 20% of known coronavirus cases required hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that for every person who died of the virus, more than 11 would be hospitalized. The real number is around four hospitalizations per death.
  • State hospitalization rates vary from 6% to more than 20%, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
  • In New York City, where around 20% of the adult population had coronavirus antibodies by mid-April, that translates to a hospitalization rate of about 2%, Nathaniel Hupert, an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-director of the Cornell Institute for Disease and Disaster Preparedness, told ProPublica.

Worth noting: Hospitals also were good at increasing their number of beds. And the number of non-coronavirus patients was drastically reduced, both because elective care was postponed and some patients with other emergencies stayed home.

What we're watching: There were plenty of lessons learned from the first wave of the pandemic that can be applied going forward, particularly as the situation worsens in some states.

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Editor's note: The photo caption on this story has been corrected to note that it was taken in Washington, D.C. (not California).

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