Coronavirus cases are on the rise, and hospitals and states are experiencing a shortage of ICU beds.

Kentucky and Texas set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations this week, joining a few other states that have already achieved the same milestone in recent days. Arkansas reported that it had run out of ICU beds to treat COVID-19 patients, the first time this has happened since the outbreak.

Nearly 80% of the country’s ICU beds — or about 68,000 — were in use Thursday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly 25,000 of those beds were also filled by COVID-19 patients, which is about 30%.

The super-transmissible Delta variant is causing havoc in states. This has led to questions about the implications for patients who are unable to access beds. Here are some solutions:

What is an ICU?

They are meant to treat the most severely ill patients. To keep patients alive, they employ more specialists and staff. The machines monitor heart rate and breathing. If someone has difficulty breathing or their heart stops, “crash carts” can be at their disposal with intubation tubes and defibrillators.

Patients who have had extensive surgery are not typical. Some may have suffered severe trauma in a car accident. Some may also be suffering from COVID-19. They need ventilators because their lungs have been damaged. They are taken care of by nurses, but also by pulmonologists and respiratory therapists, as well as infectious disease specialists.

Nancy Foster, vice-president of quality and patient safety policy for the American Hospital Association, stated that it is more than having staff.


A crowded ICU can cause logistical and staffing problems.

A nurse who would normally care for one patient may now need to take care of three or four patients. Non-ICU staff can be brought in to help. In emergency rooms, patients can wait in line for ICU beds to open. Hospitals are often forced to convert their space into ICU units.

The influx of COVID-19 patients at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Georgia has resulted in the hiring of scores of people who aren’t usually allowed to work on patient floors. Scott Steiner was the president and CEO of the health system.

Steiner assisted in turning COVID-19 patients onto their stomachs on Sunday so that their severely damaged lungs could take in more oxygen. It can take up to six people depending on the patient’s weight.

Steiner stated, “This is all hands on deck.”