New KHN Reporting Reveals Half of Nation’s Counties Lack Intensive Care Beds As COVID-19 Cases Rapidly Increase

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The rapidly increasing number of national COVID-19 cases is raising alarm among experts and state and local officials about health systems’ capacity to treat patients effectively and revealing the uneven geographic distribution of the country’s health care resources.

A special report by KFF’s Kaiser Health News (KHN) shows that more than half the counties in the United States have no intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which poses a particular danger to patients age 60 or older who fall victim to the coronavirus. Hospital ICUs have sophisticated equipment, such as bedside machines to monitor a patient’s heart rate and ventilators to help them breathe ― trouble breathing is a common symptom among seriously ill COVID-19 patients. Even in communities that do have ICU beds, the numbers vary wildly ― with some having just one bed available for thousands of senior residents.

KHN’s coverage includes a 50-state map that shows which counties have no lCU beds as well as which lack a hospital altogether. Thirty seven million Americans reside in such counties. An online “lookup” tool lets readers check the ICU bed capacity near their homes or in surrounding counties.

This report is part of KFF’s continuing efforts on the coronavirus outbreak. The national story also ran in USA Today and, as always, KHN content is available to republish free of charge. News organizations can request localized data by contacting Chris Lee.