At the end of the first week of classes, MU Chancellor Mun Choi said campus would not be shutting down and used available hospital bed capacity as one of the reasons.
Choi compared available ICU beds between Boone County and the county that’s home to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. UNC sent its students home after a week of classes.
A week after its start date, UNC had at least 177 positive cases of COVID-19. MU, on the other hand, had 415 students identified after its first week. (Note: The schools opened a week apart.)
“We are prepared,” Choi said at the Aug. 28 press conference. “We have more hospital beds that are staffed, and the number of ICU beds is larger in Boone County by a factor of three.”
UNC-Chapel Hill is located in Orange County, North Carolina, in what is commonly referred to as the Research Triangle. Its campus is about 12 miles from Duke University Hospital, so it surprised us that Missouri would compare so favorably.
As it turns out, our suspicions were affirmed.
Tracking the numbers
Christian Basi, director of the MU News Bureau, cited data from Johns Hopkins University that listed Boone County as having 150 ICU beds and Orange County as having 47 ICU beds. Or, in other words, just about three times as many at MU.
Johns Hopkins defines ICU beds as an “adult bed, pediatric bed, birthing room, or newborn ICU bed” in addition to psychiatric ICU beds and detox ICU beds.
Another database, from The Leapfrog Group, a non-profit organization that advocates transparency in healthcare, lists UNC Medical Center as having 82 ICU beds, many more than the Johns Hopkins data. MU hospitals were not reported to this database.
So we looked for other, more direct sources:
Boone County: 144 adult ICU beds.
Boone Hospital Center has 32 ICU beds, according to Aug. 3 data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
University of Missouri Health Care had 98 adult ICU beds, according to an April press release.
Truman Veterans' Hospital has 14 ICU beds. Only students who are serving or served in the military qualify to be seen there.
Orange County: 136 adult ICU beds.
UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill has 138 ICU beds and UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus has 18 ICU beds, according to Phil Bridges, executive director of integrated communications for UNC Health. But 20 of the beds are pediatric ICU, making the total 136 for adults.
In other words, there is only an eight-bed difference between counties.
Lots of choices beyond Orange County
MU lies pretty much in the center of Boone County. While UNC is in Orange County, the town of Chapel Hill actually dips into three counties, including Durham and Chatham.
So what does the picture look like when you go by proximity?
In MU’s 30-mile radius, Jefferson City’s Capital Region Medical Center and SSM St. Mary’s Hospital offer 24 ICU beds total, which brings the mid-Missouri total to 168.
In the Chapel Hill area, there are 209 ICU beds available. The hospitals are Duke University Medical Center, Duke Regional Hospital , Duke Raleigh Center, UNC Rex Hospital and Wake Med Cary.
When you expand the lens, it’s apparent that there are regionally more beds in the Orange County area than in Boone County, although the Research Triangle population is also about eight times larger.
At a press conference, Choi said, “the number of ICU beds is larger in Boone County by a factor of three.”
His math matches data from Johns Hopkins University. But a closer look shows the number of adult ICU beds to be close to the same in Boone and Orange counties.
With all things considered, we give this claim a rating of False.