7,000 more hospital beds needed for COVID-19 surge, state predicts

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 02, 2020 12:13 PM CT | Published: April 01, 2020 6:01 PM CT
<strong>Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday, April 1, during his daily press conference from the State Capitol that the state&nbsp;will need 7,000 more hospital beds to handle the worst scenario of coronavirus patient influx. Lee (shown Friday, March 27, during a&nbsp;press briefing at Memphis International Airport)&nbsp;</strong><span><strong>said the state&rsquo;s strategy is &ldquo;plan for the worst.&rdquo;</strong>&nbsp;</span>(Greg Campbell/Special for The Daily Memphian)

Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday, April 1, during his daily press conference from the State Capitol that the state will need 7,000 more hospital beds to handle the worst scenario of coronavirus patient influx. Lee (shown Friday, March 27, during a press briefing at Memphis International Airport) said the state’s strategy is “plan for the worst.” (Greg Campbell/Special for The Daily Memphian)

Expecting COVID-19 cases to peak in two to four weeks, the state is predicting it will need 7,000 more hospital beds to handle the worst scenario of patient influx, Gov. Bill Lee said Wednesday, April 1.

Still in the early stages of coping with the coronavirus, the state has only 3,414 in-patient beds available, only 32% of its capacity, 534 intensive care unit beds and 838 ventilators, it was revealed during the governor’s daily press conference done remotely from the State Capitol. More licensed, unstaffed beds are available.

Maps show concentration of coronavirus cases

The peak could hit April 19 or 20, the governor said, noting the state is not prepared for the number of hospitalizations that could occur but is planning to “close the gap” on that shortage.

Two weeks ago, the state estimated it had 15,000 licensed, unused beds and an additional 12,000 hospitalized people.

<strong>Lisa Piercey</strong>

Lisa Piercey

Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said hospitals have “surge capacity” and “can ramp up in bed space and have lots of different levers they can pull to increase that capacity without any external intervention whatsoever.”

Lee said Wednesday: “Our efforts are solely focused now on providing the appropriate amount of equipment, the right number of beds, the right number of medical providers to meet the surge that’s coming in the weeks ahead.” 

Some of those 7,000 beds are already being provided because of the suspension of elective surgeries, Lee said, and major hospitals are freeing up beds to increase capacity.

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is assessing everything from convention centers to hotels and college dorms in major cities to determine whether they can handle medical equipment during a COVID-19 surge.

Thousands, not hundreds, should be tested daily for COVID-19, expert says

Lee did not know the maximum number of infected people the state expects or the number who could need hospitalization, but he said the state’s strategy is “plan for the worst.”

The state’s number of positive cases jumped Wednesday to 2,683 out of 32,452 tests conducted, with 200 hospitalizations and 24 deaths stemming from the virus.

Shelby County led the state with 496 cases and three deaths out of 2,397 tested, while Davidson County had 423 cases and four deaths out of 4,235 tested.

Using a model based on the coronavirus’ spread in Washington and awaiting projections by Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the state’s COVID-19 Unified Command is preparing for a surge in two to four weeks and hopes to have the hospital beds in place in three to four weeks to meet the demand, according to Director Stuart McWhorter.

While questions have been raised about the availability of personal protective equipment for health care providers and patients over the past two weeks, more than 18 million items worth about $45 million have been shipped to hospitals, clinics and test sites across the state, according to the governor.

Meanwhile, universities and technology centers such as the University of Memphis have been using 3D equipment to produce 10,000 face shields, according to the governor.

Tennessee is ahead of most states in testing per capita, but Lee said he wants to do even more testing, which will show more positive cases but will also give the state more information to track the spread of the virus. The state was set to start listing the counties where people die from COVID-19.

In addition, the state is making an “urgent call” to health care workers who’ve been let go or furloughed and asking them to help in the crisis. A website is being launched where they can sign up to help provide care during the surge.

The governor confirmed the state received approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a waiver providing flexibility in the state’s TennCare program to expedite treatment and more funds to treat uninsured people affected by COVID-19.

The governor continued to defend his decision to make a “safer at home” request of state residents instead of a more stringent “shelter at home” mandate. He noted some governors in states where the disease has spread have begun to reconsider their policies.

Yet, a group of doctors kept up its demand Wednesday for the governor to put more stringent rules in place.

Dr. Tufik Assad, a pulmonary and critical care physician in Williamson County, was joined by several other doctors Wednesday in requesting the governor make a stricter order and saying the medical community is “not divided,” as the governor noted Tuesday and again Wednesday when he said some physician groups have supported his orders.

“Despite all the suggesting, all the urging, data shows this problem only getting worse. The death rate and the case count are where many of us said it would be when over 2,000 Tennessee doctors first began pleading with you to act 10 days ago,” Assad said.

Lee: Surge is coming, could overwhelm state’s health care system

Meanwhile, state Rep. Mike Stewart called on the governor to start an “Immunity Certificate” program to test Tennessee’s health care providers, first responders and other people likely to be exposed to COVID-19 and identify those who are immune and can freely work on the “front lines” to fight the virus. 

Germany and Great Britain are rolling out broad testing and certification to find people who are immune and can perform key jobs without risk, the Nashville Democrat said in a statement. 

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“We need to get the resources in place to test all of our health care workers so we know which ones can work without fear of COVID-19 and which ones need maximum protection against the VIRUS,” Stewart said.

As reported in Business Insider and other news sources, Germany is planning to send hundreds of thousands of tests to determine whether persons who have developed antibodies to COVID-19 are immune so they can be given certificates permitting greater movement and activity.

COVID-19 in Memphis and Shelby County: April


Bill Lee Dr. Tufik Assad Mike Stewart
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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