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Rutgers Study: County Needs Hospital Beds

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By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
CAMDEN – The Sen. Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs, at Rutgers University-Camden, released a research brief, projecting a need for between 1,270 and 3,249 Cape May County hospital beds to accommodate COVID-19 infected individuals at the peak of the health crisis.
The county has 242 beds, according to the study.
Produced in cooperation with the Rutgers Center for Computational and Integrative Biology and New Jersey Health Initiatives, the study compares hospital beds available in eight South Jersey counties with the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus, based on models developed from data of the experiences in China and Italy. The study claims to represent “one set of possible outcomes, given our current knowledge about the disease.”
The research is also aimed at showing the potential impact that social distancing policies and practices can have on the projected need for hospital care. In doing so, the study describes three scenarios of social distancing practices labeled minimal, moderate and aggressive. The impact on the need for hospital beds is then calculated under each scenario.
According to the Rutgers research, social distancing practices will determine both the curve’s height at the point of peak infections and the time frame when the county would likely see that peak. No scenario considered in the study looks good, except in a relative sense.
The projection for the need of hospital beds, even under the best-case scenario, which has county residents practicing aggressive social distancing policies, calls for four times the hospital beds than the county has total.
The projected peak of the illness curve would be lower than under other scenarios, with fewer individuals contracting the virus at levels that would require hospitalization. The smaller peak would also be longer in arriving.
The study projects a peak in mid-October. The worst-case scenario from Rutgers, one in which individuals practice minimal social distancing, would see a peak much earlier in May, with a much higher demand curve, requiring over 12 times the hospital beds than the county has available. Moderate social distancing practices, according to the study, results in a peak during the summer months, with a need for over eight times the county’s total hospital beds.
The study’s charts remind readers that without COVID-19 contagion, about 53% of the hospital beds are normally claimed for other reasons. A form of triage would also have to include hospitalization needs that have no connection to COVID-19.
The study’s projection model is based on one developed to account for the numbers and spread of the virus in China and Italy. The authors note that 81% of those infected with the virus won’t show symptoms or will have mild enough cases that they will not likely be tested. These individuals are still capable of spreading the disease to others.
Recognizing that the projected number will seem high to those who see only 21,000 cases in Italy, the authors defend their projects. This was based on data from March 14. Those who question the projected spread of the virus might find less comfort in the numbers from Italy, where 10 days later, on March 24, the confirmed cases stood at 64,000.
Why the high rate of projected spread?
The Rutgers study says that COVID-19 is more contagious than seasonal influenza, that the high number of asymptomatic but infected individuals allows for a wider spread, and that COVID-19 appears to have a higher rate of required hospitalization than seasonal flu.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.

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