In northern Italy, just two weeks ago, doctors found themselves inundated with patients sickened by the new coronavirus.
One large hospital had roughly 500 patients positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. As many as 90 new patients with COVID-19 symptoms arrived each day. The onrush of patients overwhelmed the hospital’s medical supplies, protective equipment for workers and, most importantly, ventilators needed to keep many COVID-19 patients alive. And the scene was the same at every hospital across the region.
“There is no way to find an exception,” one Italian doctor told the New England Journal of Medicine. “We have to decide who must die and whom we shall keep alive.”
If Colorado’s increasingly strict social distancing requirements fail, hospitals here could be facing this same situation in a matter of weeks. Health officials say there are 72 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 currently hospitalized across the state, but hospitals report dozens more with suspected cases occupying specially designated wards and intensive-care units.
The possibility that Colorado hospitals could soon be overrun with more patients than they can treat has doctors now talking about doing something the state has never had to do before: activating the state’s crisis standards of care plan, which would help doctors decide whom to save when they can’t save everyone.
“It’s very military-style triage,” said Dr. Matthew Wynia, the director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and a national expert on crisis standards of care.
“If we get hit that hard, we are going to have some very difficult decisions to make,” he said. “And we can’t wait until then to get ready for that. So at this point, our philosophy is that it would be irresponsible not to plan right now for a huge surge of patients.”