Intensive care management of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): challenges and recommendations

8 Apr, 2020

As coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) spreads across the world, the intensive care unit (ICU) community must prepare for the challenges associated with this pandemic. Streamlining of workflows for rapid diagnosis and isolation, clinical management, and infection prevention will matter not only to patients with COVID-19, but also to health-care workers and other patients who are at risk from nosocomial transmission. Management of acute respiratory failure and haemodynamics is key. ICU practitioners, hospital administrators, governments, and policy makers must prepare for a substantial increase in critical care bed capacity, with a focus not just on infrastructure and supplies, but also on staff management. Critical care triage to allow the rationing of scarce ICU resources might be needed. Researchers must address unanswered questions, including the role of repurposed and experimental therapies. Collaboration at the local, regional, national, and international level offers the best chance of survival for the critically ill.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the third coronavirus infection in two decades that was originally described in Asia, after severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).1 As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads worldwide, intensive care unit (ICU) practitioners, hospital administrators, governments, policy makers, and researchers must prepare for a surge in critically ill patients. Many lessons can be learnt from the cumulative experience of Asian ICUs dealing with the COVID-19, SARS, and MERS outbreaks. In this Review, we draw on the experience of Asian ICU practitioners from a variety of settings—and available literature on the management of critically ill patients with COVID-19 and related conditions— to provide an overview of the challenges the ICU community faces and recommendations for navigating these complexities.