Easter Sunday this year is also “Peak Ventilator” – the day when the highest number of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic patients are expected to require ventilators to stay alive across the United States.
The peak in usage arrived a lot sooner than most people expected and the overall number of “vented” patients also appears to be a lot lower than was initially predicted. That’s due in large part to changes in the computer forecasting models being used to predict the spread of the pandemic.
In the weeks ahead there will still be individual hospitals, even entire cities, that see the number of ventilators they have in use climb higher. That’s because virus “hotspots” are likely to continue to flare up around the country; however, the latest estimates predict that on Sunday, April 12 slightly more than 15,400 patients with COVID-19 will be breathing in American hospitals with the assistance of invasive ventilation. Then the forecasts show that figure steadily dropping downward for the rest of this year.
Social Distancing Appears to be Working So Far
The dramatically revised predictions for ventilator requirements in North America are largely the result of good news: The near complete shutdown of Americans daily life, which began in most states over the past two-or-three weeks as part of the global effort to enforce social distancing, seems to have worked to “flatten the curve” on the charts showing the spread of the virus.
If the new estimates prove correct, and if people continue to hold the line until given an official all clear, then the United States will have dodged the worst of the epidemiological forecasts. Just one month ago some of those models had estimated between a million and two million people – numbers which are more than the entire populations of several American states – could have died from the virus if it had been allowed to spread unchecked.
Mass Production of New Ventilators Appears to be Too Little, Too Late
If, with some hindsight, Sunday does turn out to be “peak ventilator” that will unfortunately mean the frantic efforts in recent weeks to figure out how to mass produce additional ventilators have largely been for naught.
Just this past week the United States Department of Health & Human Services announced that they issued two contracts which together are worth more than $1 billion dollars to fund an emergency round of new ventilator production using the powers of the wartime Defense Production Act.
Those contracts will result in at least 73,000 ventilators being added to the National Strategic Stockpile of medical equipment by the end of this year; however, the first batch of over 6,000 new ventilators, which are being made by General Motors, is not set to arrive until June 1 while most of the new forecast models show the worst of the pandemic being well over in the United States by the end of May.
Even if the new ventilators miss the worst of the outbreak in the US this time around and even if, as some doctors are now suggesting, ventilators may not be the best method of treating many COVID-19 patients after all, they could be needed for future respiratory virus outbreaks such as the long-standing threat of a particularly virulent influenza pandemic for which many public health officials have been predicting the world is overdue.