Data released by the Harvard Global Health Institute and reported on by ProPublica predicts that 40 percent of Americans will contract coronavirus over 12 months — what it calls its “moderate” scenario  — and the ability of hospitals to address the need will vary widely depending on location.

Predicting that one in five people with COVID-19 will require hospitalization, the report says the country as a whole will have to “more than double” available hospital beds. The report addresses the situation in Little Rock, finding that demand for hospital beds will be 156 percent greater than what is available and that demand will overwhelm ICU capacity.


Here’s what it says about Little Rock:

As of 2018, Little Rock, AR had 4,850 total hospital beds, of which about 55% were occupied, potentially leaving only 2,170 beds open for additional patients. The bed count includes 520 beds in intensive care units, according to data from the American Hospital Association and the American Hospital Directory. Intensive care units are best equipped to handle the most acute coronavirus cases.


The Little Rock, AR region has a population of about 1.6 million residents; 16% are over the age of 65. The experience in other countries has shown that elderly patients have significantly higher hospitalization and fatality rates from the coronavirus.

In the moderate scenario, in which 40% of the adult population contracts the disease over 12 months, Little Rock, AR would be among the regions that would need to expand capacity.


In the moderate scenario, in which 40% of the adult population contracts the disease over 12 months, Little Rock, AR would be among the regions that would need to expand capacity.


It is estimated that about 8% of the adult population would require hospital care. In a moderate scenario where 40% of the population is infected over a 12-month period, hospitals in Little Rock, AR would receive an estimated 102,000 coronavirus patients. The influx of patients would require 3,400 beds over 12 months, which is 156% of available beds in that time period. The Harvard researchers’ scenarios assume that each coronavirus patient will require 12 days of hospital care on average, based on data from China.


In the Little Rock, AR region, intensive care units would be especially overwhelmed and require additional capacity. Without coronavirus patients, there are only 180 available beds on average in intensive care units, which is 4.2 times less than what is needed to care for all severe cases.

The burden on hospitals will depend on rates of infection, which will depend on measures to promote social distancing. The report quotes Dr. Marc Lipsitch, head of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics:


“The way to permanently stop new cases from setting off long chains of transmission is to have each case infect considerably less than one case on average.”

Does that mean shelter in place? Governor Hutchinson is reluctant to shut things down more than it already has. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, responding to the outbreak in New York, which has more than half the nation’s cases, ordered all nonessential businesses and nonprofits to close their offices and continue their work by telecommuting and families to stay home as much as possible.) 

The Arkansas Department of Health is issuing a directive, which has the force of law, that indoor gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people. 


Hutchinson last week estimated that infections would peak in six to eight weeks and that 1,000 people would be hospitalized over time. (The state has not given an estimate of percentage of infections.) However, after yesterday’s COVID-19 update, Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith said the state was reworking its model and would announce new numbers soon. There will be another update at 2:30 p.m. today at the State Capitol.

Asked about community spread yesterday, Smith agreed there was a “potential” that the people have the virus statewide, despite the fact that 39 counties have no reported cases. Smith said a number of factors could account for the lack of positives, including the lack of testing supplies. But he also said the rural nature of the counties could also mean no spread of the virus there.

“We can assume that in any public place there’s the potential for COVID-19 transmission,” Smith said.

Smith reported yesterday that there have been 27 hospitalizations to date. Forty-one others are in nursing homes. Four nursing homes have reported COVID-19 infections; Briarwood Nursing Home in Little Rock has 37 of the cases. (Others with infections include Apple Creek Nursing and Rehab in Centerton, the Villages of General Baptist West and Waters in White Hall.)


People have been tested in all but four counties: Lafayette, Lee, Little River and Newton. Three counties have more than 20 cases: Pulaski County (78); Cleburne County (40, most related to a church picnic); Jefferson (22). Pulaski and Cleburne have had one death each.