COVID-19 Admission Rates and Changes in US Hospital Inpatient and Intensive Care Unit Occupancy

JAMA Health Forum. 2023 Dec 1;4(12):e234206. doi: 10.1001/jamahealthforum.2023.4206.


Importance: The COVID-19 pandemic had unprecedented effects on hospital occupancy, with consequences for hospital operations and patient care. Previous studies of occupancy during COVID-19 have been limited to small samples of hospitals.

Objective: To measure the association between COVID-19 admission rates and hospital occupancy in different US areas and at different time periods during 2020.

Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study used data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Databases (2019-2020) for patients in nonfederal acute care hospitals in 45 US states, including the District of Columbia. Data analysis was performed between September 1, 2022, and April 30, 2023.

Exposures: Each hospital and week in 2020 was categorized based on the number of COVID-19 admissions per 100 beds (<1 [low], 1-4.9, 5-9.9, 10-14.9, or ≥15 [high]).

Main outcomes and measures: The main outcomes were inpatient and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy. We used regression analysis to estimate the average change in occupancy for each hospital-week in 2020 relative to the same hospital week in 2019.

Results: This study included 3960 hospitals and 54 355 916 admissions. Of the admissions in the 40 states used for race and ethnicity analyses, 15.7% were for Black patients, 12.9% were for Hispanic patients, 62.5% were for White patients, and 7.2% were for patients of other race or ethnicity; 1.7% of patients were missing these data. Weekly COVID-19 admission rates in 2020 were less than 4 per 100 beds for 63.9% of hospital-weeks and at least 10 in only 15.9% of hospital-weeks. Inpatient occupancy decreased by 12.7% (95% CI, 12.1% to 13.4%) during weeks with low COVID-19 admission rates and increased by 7.9% (95% CI, 6.8% to 9.0%) during weeks with high COVID-19 admission rates. Intensive care unit occupancy rates increased by 67.8% (95% CI, 60.5% to 75.3%) during weeks with high COVID-19 admissions. Increases in ICU occupancy were greatest when weighted to reflect the experience of Hispanic patients. Changes in occupancy were most pronounced early in the pandemic. During weeks with high COVID-19 admissions, occupancy decreased for many service lines, with occupancy by surgical patients declining by 43.1% (95% CI, 38.6% to 47.2%) early in the pandemic.

Conclusions and relevance: In this cross-sectional study of US hospital discharges in 45 states in 2020, hospital occupancy decreased during weeks with low COVID-19 admissions and increased during weeks with high COVID-19 admissions, with the largest changes occurring early in the pandemic. These findings suggest that surges in COVID-19 strained ICUs and were associated with large decreases in the number of surgical patients. These occupancy fluctuations may have affected quality of care and hospital finances.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / therapy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Inpatients
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Pandemics