This is part of our Coronavirus Update series in which Harvard specialists in epidemiology, infectious disease, economics, politics, and other disciplines offer insights into what the latest developments in the COVID-19 outbreak may bring.
An interactive tool that compares hospital-care capacity with projected demand in the nation’s 306 hospital referral regions was launched Tuesday by the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), in collaboration with ProPublica. It shows specific gaps to address at the local level, helping policymakers and hospital leaders prepare for an influx of COVID-19 patients.
HGHI has research teams that study health care capacity and quality throughout the world. As the number of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infections began to rise in the U.S., one group put their machinery into motion to empower local leadership to plan according to need.
“Last week we started seeing what was happening in northern Italy, with hospitals overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. Since northern Italy has more hospital beds per capita than the U.S., we realized that we’d have the same problem here — but we didn’t have the data people need to make decisions on the ground. We started working on it right away, getting up-to-date information at the local community level because that’s what governors, mayors, and hospital executives need,” said HGHI Director Ashish Jha, K.T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard.
“Three weeks ago, we were getting increasingly frustrated as we watched the U.S. miss the boat on testing,” said Thomas Tsai, part of the research team that developed the model. “But the minute we realized we were in mitigation mode, we put our machinery in motion to help hospitals get in a better position to prepare. Now, we’re providing data do that hospital leaders and policymakers can see clearly, right now, the degree of the capacity gap. Then they can look at postponing elective surgeries and taking other measures to increase capacity.”
Tsai is an assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Global Health Institute, and a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.