Experts say Memphis needs more hospital capacity to deal with coronavirus

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis area may need twice as many hospital beds as it has now to deal with coronavirus, health experts said Wednesday.

At this stage, they say they’re encouraged by social distancing, but they say the battle with COVID-19 is going to be a lot harder, and take a lot longer, than anyone first thought.

“We are seeing an increasing number of cases come into the hospital,” said Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease specialist and member of the COVID-19 task force.

“What we cannot manage is if there is a huge influx within the hospitals and the bed capacity,” he said. “We may have a need for maybe twice as many beds as what we have now.”

 As of Wednesday, Memphis has 926 unoccupied hospital beds available.

Regional One, for instance, has more than 370 beds, but only 32 are unoccupied.   

There are also 253 ventilators available in our area — these are vital in treating critically ill coronavirus patients — but right now, 99 of those, are being used to treat other patients who also have breathing problems.     

That means there are only 154 ventilators available.

Jain said we might need three to four times that amount before the virus peaks in a couple of weeks.

Dr. Jeff Warren, a City Council member and member of the COVID-19 task force, said some models show that, without social distancing, the virus could be beyond local hospital capacity.

“I’ve seen some prediction models that if we do no social distancing, we could be looking at 1,500 cases a day going to the hospital. And that would completely overrun our capacity,” Warren said.

Warren said Memphis is moving forward to acquire more bed space, deploying the Army Corps Reserves to build extra capacity.  They’re actively pursuing a large location that could serve as a hospital.

“We’re hoping to build a thousand extra beds by the time we get to peak,” he said.

In the meantime, Warren is hammering home the importance of continued social distancing.

Right now, many doctors believe if you caught the coronavirus today, you’d be immune from it in the future, but they’re waiting for more evidence to prove that.

Even then, you could still catch a different strain of the virus next year, which is why a vaccine is so important.

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