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By Simone Esters September 16, 2020

Mun Choi’s numbers are off when it comes to ICU beds around Mizzou and UNC

If Your Time is short

  • Choi compared the two universities in explaining why Mizzou’s campus is still open but UNC closed theirs after just a week.

  • One data point he used was available ICU beds in each county. Choi’s math is based on data from Johns Hopkins University, but that isn’t a complete count, we found.. 

  • In addition, Chapel Hill, actually lies near three counties, and is close to many more hospitals’ ICU beds.

At the end of the first week of classes, the University of Missouri chancellor said it wasn’t shutting down campus and used available hospital bed capacity as one of the reasons. 

Mizzou Chancellor Mun Choi compared available ICU beds between his 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, 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 Mizzou. 

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 

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. These hospitals are Duke University Medical Center, Duke Regional Center, 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.

Our ruling 

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.

Our Sources

Email exchange, Christian Basi, director of MU News Bureau,  Aug. 29, 2020

Email exchange, Phil Bridges, executive director of integrated communications, UNC Health,  Sept. 4, 2020

St. Louis Post Dispatch, Columbia closes bars early as Mizzou student COVID count passes 300, Aug. 29, 2020

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, MO Hospital Profiles By County, accessed Sept. 1, 2020. 

Johns Hopkins University, COVID-19 United States Cases by County, accessed Aug. 30, 2020

The Leapfrog Group, Hospital Profiles, accessed on Aug. 31, 2020

ABC 17, Columbia hospitals have availability in ICU beds, plans to expand in case of surge , accessed on Sept. 1, 2020

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Mun Choi’s numbers are off when it comes to ICU beds around Mizzou and UNC

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