The pressure on healthcare system and intensive care utilization during the COVID-19 outbreak in the Lombardy region: a retrospective observational study on 43,538 hospitalized patients

Am J Epidemiol. 2021 Oct 15;kwab252. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwab252. Online ahead of print.


During the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 epidemic caused an unprecedented demand for intensive care resources in Lombardy, Italy. Using data on 43,538 hospitalized patients admitted between February 21 and July 12, 2020, we evaluated variations in intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and mortality over three periods: the early phase (February 20-March 13), the period of highest pressure on healthcare (March 14-April 25, when COVID-19 patients exceeded the ICU pre-pandemic bed capacity), and the declining phase (April 26-July 12). Compared to the early phase, patients above 70 years of age were admitted less often to an ICU during highest pressure on healthcare (odds ratio OR 0.47, 95%CI: 0.41-0.54) with longer delays (incidence rate ratio IRR 1.82, 95%CI: 1.52-2.18), and lower chances of death in ICU (OR 0.47, 95%CI: 0.34-0.64). Patients under 56 years of age reported more limited changes in the probability (OR 0.65, 95%CI: 0.56-0.76) and delay to ICU admission (IRR 1.16, 95%CI: 0.95-1.42) and an increased mortality (OR 1.43, 95%CI: 1.00-2.07). In the declining phase, all quantities decreased for all age groups. These patterns may suggest that limited healthcare resources during the peak epidemic phase in Lombardy forced a shift in ICU admission criteria to prioritize patients with higher chances of survival.

Keywords: Covid-19 hospitalization; admission delay; healthcare strain; intensive care; mortality in ICU; probability of ICU admission.