Mar 11, 2020 - Health

A longer coronavirus outbreak is the best outcome for the health care system

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

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

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Yes, but: It's kind of a false choice. Passing either of those health care plans would require a knock-down, drag-out party-line brawl just as intense as the fight over the Affordable Care Act.

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WHO official leads criticism of Trump's coronavirus response

President Trump with members of the new coronavirus task force at the White House on Wednesday. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Ezekiel Emanuel, special adviser to the director general of the World Health Organization, told MSNBC Wednesday he found "most" of what President Trump said at his briefing on the novel coronavirus "incoherent."

The big picture: As the number of confirmed cases reaches 60 in the U.S., the top health professional — who was a health policy adviser in the Obama administration — is among several leading figures, in particular, Democrats, to criticize the president for his response to the outbreak.

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Large pay packages rolling in for health care executives

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New annual financial documents for large health care companies are rolling in with a familiar tune: executives took home large paydays in 2019 that mostly came from large stock gains.

The bottom line: The health care system is a firehose of spending, and a good chunk of that money always makes its way to the top.

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