Ventilators are in Short Supply, and We Need Them Now More than Ever
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a heavy strain on the global health care system, but one particular piece of medical equipment could mean the difference between life or death for some. Ventilators are used to help patients who are unable to breathe properly on their own by pumping air into their lungs through a tube inserted into their windpipes.
Due to the fact that COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, some patients may develop pneumonia, making it difficult for their lungs to fill with enough air. With a sharp influx of patients heading to the hospital with breathing difficulties, the need for ventilators has reached a critical point.
While American hospitals are typically properly equipped with an adequate amount of ventilators, in this current situation, many experts are warning that we are facing a critical supply issue. For the majority of cases, patients will not require hospitalization. About 20 percent of cases require hospitalization, with 13.8 percent developing serious respiratory problems, and 6.1 percent going into respiratory failure.
For those patients who develop a more severe case, being put on a ventilator can dramatically increase their chances of survival. These statistics may seem minute, but with COVID-19 cases exploding in the past two weeks, hospitals are bracing for a massive increase in hospitalizations requiring ventilator care.
Ventilators are required when patients’ lungs become too inflamed to be able to function on their own. When a patient is intubated, the process of being hooked up to a ventilator, a tube is inserted into their windpipe, creating a closed system of respiration that assists the patient in breathing.
Once the patient is hooked up, they will require highly trained respiratory therapists to monitor their situation and make adjustments accordingly. Unfortunately, like the ventilators themselves, there is a major shortage of trained specialists to keep up with demand.
According to a 2018 analysis from the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, the U.S. has about 160,000 ventilators. If measures like social distancing do not make an impact in flattening the curve of new infections, experts warn that the number of ventilators the U.S. currently has on hand will not be enough.
To increase this number, American companies have pivoted their businesses to begin making more ventilators. Car companies like General Motors, Ford, and Tesla are reconfiguring their intricate manufacturing lines to begin producing ventilators and related components to help increase the supply in America.
While our brave healthcare workers stand on the frontlines of the crisis, we can all do our part by staying home and practicing social distancing to the highest degree.