Culture

Are U.S. Hospitals Equipped with Enough Ventilators to Handle Massive COVID-19 Outbreak?

(Image by Silas Camargo Silão from Pixabay)

As Italy struggles to decide which patients with the coronavirus will live or die because of a ventilator shortage and an overwhelmed medical system, Americans want to know if it can happen here. Are we prepared for massive numbers of infections and increased demand for respiratory equipment? COVID-19 can cause pneumonia to set in very quickly and in severe cases, patients must be intubated in order for their lungs to recover. This requires specific medical equipment and if not available could mean the difference between life and death.

PJ Media reached out to some of the top ventilator manufacturers to find out if they are gearing up to meet the shortages and to find out if any of their products are manufactured in China.

Dräger manufactures medical and safety technology products including ventilators. The regional CEO of North America, Lothar Thielen, sent PJM this statement:

Dräger’s Medical division is seeing a significantly increased demand for ventilators and related accessories worldwide. Additionally, Dräger’s Safety division is also seeing an increased demand for personal protective equipment worldwide as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread.

To cope with the situation, Dräger has been taking proactive measures to increase production capacity by implementing an additional production shift, reallocating staff to affected product lines, expediting air freight, and other measures to maintain our supply chain in order to meet the global need to the greatest extent possible.

In the USA, Dräger has an internal task force to monitor the Covid-19 situation on a daily basis and address local issues of concern to support our customers and employees as we face this pandemic. Safety and quality remain at the forefront for all of us in healthcare and safety fields. As developments progress, Dräger remains committed to a proactive approach to manage the demands generated by the recent pandemic event in the best possible way.

Jayme Rubenstein, public relations director for ResMed, a similar medical equipment manufacturer, told PJM, “Our products are mainly manufactured in Sydney and Singapore. All equipment sold outside of China is manufactured outside China.”

“However,” he added, “we do import some components from China for select products.” Rubenstein did not elaborate on what those components are.

“We are seeing increased demand for ventilators, particularly in heavily affected regions like China and South Korea,” he continued. “At present, we can meet the global demand.” When asked what the turnaround time for ventilator manufacturing is, Rubenstein declined to comment.

Smiths Group and Phillips Healthcare declined to respond.

The CDC stockpiles ventilators and is reported to have a little over 8,000 on hand. The total number of ventilators already in hospitals is was last reported at around 160,000. The New York Times is suggesting that if numbers do hit the U.S. in the same proportion as Italy, the stockpile won’t be enough.

A crucial thing to understand about the coronavirus threat — and it’s playing out grimly in Italy — is the difference between the total number of people who might get sick and the number who might get sick at the same time. Our country has only 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. That’s fewer than in Italy (3.2), China (4.3) and South Korea (12.3), all of which have had struggles. More important, there are only so many intensive care beds and ventilators.

It’s estimated that we have about 45,000 intensive care unit beds in the United States. In a moderate outbreak, about 200,000 Americans would need one.

PJM reached out to the CDC to find out if there are plans to increase the ventilator stockpiles but did not get a response at the time of publishing. We will update if they respond.

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Megan Fox is the author of “Believe Evidence; The Death of Due Process from Salome to #MeToo,” and host of The Fringe podcast. Follow on Twitter @MeganFoxWriter