Group projects NC’s COVID-19 hospital usage to peak this week – but will it?

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – This could be a critical week in North Carolina’s fight against the coronavirus, according to projections from one team of researchers.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects the state to reach its peak in hospital resource usage on Friday with an expected need of 713 total beds and 165 of those in intensive care.

That’s a comparatively optimistic projection in a state that, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, had 7,740 total available beds with 919 of those in ICUs on Wednesday.

The IMHE study also projects North Carolina to have already passed its peak in daily deaths with 22 on Monday.

Yet while those numbers seem to have shown at least some semblance of accuracy in other states, one leading researcher in North Carolina says it may be better to focus on “granular” numbers about the state’s population and health care.

“I think we can learn a lot from models, but I think we would be better off actually looking at the number of deaths that we are seeing in states,” said Pia MacDonald, the senior director of applied public health research at RTI International.

“I think looking at what the epidemic curve looks like in North Carolina, based on deaths and number of new cases, is more helpful when we are talking about specific days and when we’re talking about potentially being at the peak,” she added. “I don’t think the models can be accurate enough versus what the data is showing on the ground.”

IHME describes its model as a planning tool for hospital administrators and government officials, and assembles its forecasts from data from the World Health Organization, local and national governments, hospitals and observed COVID-19 utilization data from select locations.

It projected New York’s peak in both daily deaths and hospital utilization to have passed last week, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying on April 11 that number of hospitalizations “appears to have hit an apex.”

And in Ohio, leaders revised their dire projections of new cases per day from 6,000 down to 1,600, closer in line to what IHME predicted.

In its most recent update, the group also projects 415 total COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina by Aug. 4 – a drastic reduction from its projections two weeks ago of more than 1,700 deaths and a shortage of ICU beds in the state.

But don’t be deceived by those projections, MacDonald warned. They could change again, especially if social distancing behaviors change.

The IHME study assumes those social distancing measures will remain in effect through May.

A team of local researchers released its own study last week and says if all social distancing were to stop at the end of April, an estimated 750,000 North Carolinians could be infected by June 1. Keeping those various measures in place could drop that number by half a million, to 250,000, according to the

That team is comprised of experts from the University of North Carolina, Duke University, RTI International, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and NoviSci. They looked at data specific to North Carolina in forming their projections.

They also say that keeping social distancing measures after April will lead to a roughly 25 percent chance that hospitals run out of beds in mid-to-late May to handle the number of COVID-19 patients. Those chances climb to approximately 50 percent if those measures are halted later this month.

“If I looked at the numbers in North Carolina right now, it looks like the number of deaths per day is growing rather than shrinking, which tells me we’re not on the waning part of the outbreak,” MacDonald said.

“And obviously, there are problems with the numbers,” she added. “The best we have is number of deaths per day, and until we see that going down consistently over time, we’re still in the midst of the outbreak and we don’t know where we are with regard to where the peak actually is and when that will occur.”

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