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There's a growing fear the U.S. will have to ration hospital beds like Iran or Italy (above). Photo: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Every corner of the U.S. is at risk for a severe shortage of hospital beds as the coronavirus outbreak worsens, according to new simulations from Harvard, mapped out by ProPublica and the New York Times.

Why it matters: Total nationwide capacity for health care supplies doesn't always matter, because hospitals in one area can help out neighboring systems when they're overwhelmed by a crisis. But these projections indicate that won't be an option with the coronavirus — everybody will be hurting at the same time.

By the numbers: Harvard's projections show if 50% of all currently occupied hospital beds were emptied and sizable percentages of Americans were infected, the country would need at least three times more beds to care for everyone.

  • "No market would be spared," Harvard's Ashish Jha wrote.

Those models line up with James Lawler, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center who forecasted in a recent presentation to hospital insiders that the U.S. may eventually have as many as 96 million cases, resulting in 4.8 million hospitalizations. He told Axios he stands by those projections.

  • The U.S. has 924,000 total hospital beds, or less than three beds for every 1,000 people. Roughly 5% of those beds are in standard intensive care units, where the sickest coronavirus patients would need to go.

Hospitals closures have laid a groundwork that could make this problem worse, reducing the total capacity in a given area while shifting more patients into the hospitals that remain.

  • For example, after Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia closed last year, surrounding hospitals had to take on those patients and don't have a lot of room for a coronavirus surge.
  • "That [closure] has put a particular strain on the regional health care system," said Darilyn Moyer, the head of the American College of Physicians who works at Temple University's health system.

The bottom line: "I don't think our health system is prepared," Lawler said. "If we can reduce the surge, we can potentially help our hospitals, but they have a long way to go."

Go deeper: The coronavirus crisis has to focus on "flattening the curve"

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.