New IHME COVID-19 forecasts find lower hospital bed need, epidemics starting to peak confirms social distancing works

Published April 5, 2020


Massive Infusion of New Data’ Informs Estimates 

Pandemic’s trajectory would change – and dramatically for the worse –  if people ease up on social distancing 


View the COVID-19 projections


SEATTLE – (5 April 2020) Updated COVID-19 estimates find that need for hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators needed to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic are less than previously estimated.   

The revised forecasts reflect “a massive infusion of new data,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. New data on COVID-19 health service use from multiple US states, including New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, and California, has led to revisions down in estimated need to deal with the pandemic.   

In addition, estimation of the likely peak of the epidemic in each state has been strengthened by epidemics peaking after social distancing in seven more locations internationally 

“As we obtain more data and more precise data, the forecasts we at IHME created have become more accurate,” Murray said. “And these projections are vital to health planners, policymakers, and anyone else associated with caring for those affected by and infected with the coronavirus.”  

IHME is predicting the need for approximately 25,000 ventilators over the next several weeks. Estimates of need for ventilators have primarily been revised downward because of the much larger datasets on US practice patterns for the caring of COVID-19 patients. Predicted excess demand for ICU beds has also been revised downward, with an estimated 16,323-bed shortage.   

Murray noted that for patients who do not require ICU services, their length of stay has gone down, but for those who need ICU services, the length of stay has increased. Estimated demand for ICU beds and ventilators is also influenced by the longer length of stay for patients who survive. Lower numbers of required hospital beds may also reflect triage practices in over-stretched hospital systems, such as New York’s, where some moderately ill patients cannot be admitted because of demand for hospital beds.    

Regarding deaths from the virus, the Institute’s previous general analysis still standshowever, the highest estimates are lower. IHME forecasts 81,766 deaths, with a range between 49,431 and 136,401The estimated peak day, the modeling indicated, is April 16, with a projected 3,130 deaths nationwide on that day. Estimates for many states have been substantially revised because of more data. Data in the early days of the epidemic in each state can inform the trajectory of the epidemicwhether it will follow a pattern of rapid increase as in New York, or much slower increase as in Washington.   

Projecting the epidemic in each state depends on predicting the peak. One week ago, the only place that had experienced a peak was Wuhan City. The impact of social distancing is now much clearer, as seven European regions have seen a peak in daily deaths as well. Those seven locations are Madrid, Spain; Castile-La Mancha, Spain; Tuscany, Italy; Emilia-Romagna, Italy; Liguria, Italy; Piedmont, Italy; and Lombardy, Italy. 

Murray, however, cautioned that, “As we noted previously, the trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions. Our projections are strengthened by the new downturns in more regions. This is evidence that social distancing is crucial. Our forecasts assume that social distancing remains in place until the end of May.  

Among the several states hard hit by the virus, Murray called out New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut as a “national hot spot,” representing 37.6% of the 81,766 cumulative deaths predicted nationally.  

“New York may peak in the next few days, although the potential range of peak deaths per day is large. New Jersey has a larger epidemic than previously thought and will peak later than New York,” Murray said.  

Also, Murray noted that four states – Florida, Virginia, Louisiana, and West Virginia – will have peaks earlier than previously projected. 

“Our estimates assume statewide social distancing measures are continuing in states where they have already been enacted, and for those states without such measures in place, it is assumed they will be will be in place within seven days,” Murray said. “If social distancing measures are relaxed or not implemented, the US will see greater death tolls, the death peak will be later, the burden on hospitals will be much greater, and the economic costs will continue to grow.”  

The analysis is based on an extensive range of information and data sources, including: 

  • Local governments, national governments, and the World Health Organization 

  • Government declarations on implementation of social distancing policies 

  • Data from the American Hospital Association on licensed hospital bed and ICU capacity and average annual utilization of these services by state 

  • Data on COVID-19-related demand for ICU services in the US 

  • Age-specific death rate data from China, Italy, South Korea, and the US 


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IHME is grateful to the Microsoft AI for Health program for supporting our hosting of COVID-19 data visualizations in the Azure cloud. 


About the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME is committed to transparency and makes this information widely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions on allocating resources to improve population health.