The best possible monitoring and communication will nonetheless prove vital to determining who needs hospital beds in the midst of a rapidly spreading, temperamental disease. Without it, to simply tell people to “stay at home if you’re sick” will be inadequate. Most cases of COVID-19 are reportedly “mild,” but that term can be misleading. As the World Health Organization adviser Bruce Aylward clarified last week, a “mild” case of COVID-19 is not equivalent to a mild cold. Expect it to be much worse: fever and coughing, sometimes pneumonia: anything short of requiring oxygen. “Severe” cases require supplemental oxygen, sometimes via a breathing tube and a ventilator. “Critical” cases involve “respiratory failure or multi-organ failure.”

The disease can sometimes escalate unexpectedly, and even healthy young patients will need people checking in on them. They may be fine at home initially, but would need to know precisely what to watch out for, and when to seek care. People who do require medical supervision—but not hospital care—need a place to go and stay. This could include people with escalating symptoms or underlying risk factors. Even patients with a mild case will need places to self-isolate if they live with others who have not yet been infected, especially if those people are older or immune-compromised.

China addressed this issue by mandating that sick people in Wuhan go into quarantine for two weeks, at one of the dozens of hastily adapted or constructed emergency facilities that look almost like military field hospitals. People are given food, beds, and medical monitoring. They can socialize with other sick people, and they can be transferred to a hospital if that became necessary.