We look at the coronavirus hospitalization rate in Colombia including the number of coronavirus cases hospitalized in Colombia and number of cases in the ICU and ICU occupancy.

Many Medellin Guru readers have asked about the coronavirus hospitalization rate in Colombia and if it is increasing, as the number of coronavirus cases increases in Colombia.

Also, many readers asked about intensive care unit (ICU) room availability and if ICU occupancy in hospitals is increasing due to coronavirus.

The reality is that not many of the confirmed coronavirus cases in Colombia are currently in the ICU and Colombia is adding ICU capacity. But there are also unconfirmed coronavirus cases in the ICU and other patients in the ICU. 

ICU occupancy in all of Colombia on October 27 was 57 percent  and had increased to 65.5 percent by December 31 according to Infobae.

However, by mid-January, out of the four largest cities in Colombia (Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla) ICU occupancy was over 90 percent in three of these four cities.

Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellín, photo by SajoR

Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe, the best hospital in Medellín, photo by SajoR

Coronavirus Hospitalization in Colombia: The Reality

On January 16, Colombia had 125,570 active coronavirus cases. The vast majority of active coronavirus cases in Colombia are isolated at home and treated at home. 

A total of 17.1 percent of active cases were hospitalized in Colombia on January 16 according to INS out of the active cases that have not recovered or died.

On January 16, 18,860 active and confirmed coronavirus cases were in hospital rooms plus another 2,635 confirmed cases in the ICU for a total of 21,495 cases in the hospital.

The following are the counts of confirmed coronavirus cases hospitalized in Colombia by day including how many were in the ICU from January 5 to January 16:

  • January 5 – 20,892 total hospitalized, including 2,144 in the ICU
  • January 6 – 22,011 total hospitalized, including 2,125 in the ICU
  • January 7 – 22,364 total hospitalized, including 2,100 in the ICU
  • January 8 – 22,492 total hospitalized, including 2,103 in the ICU
  • January 9 – 22,671 total hospitalized, including 2,099 in the ICU
  • January 10 – 22,687 total hospitalized, including 2,117 in the ICU
  • January 11 – 22,888 total hospitalized, including 2,122 in the ICU
  • January 12 – 22,071 total hospitalized, including 2,121 in the ICU
  • January 13 – 22,345 total hospitalized, including 2,135 in the ICU
  • January 14 – 22,428 total hospitalized, including 2,215 in the ICU
  • January 15 – 23,119 total hospitalized, including 2,606 in the ICU
  • January 16 – 21,494 total hospitalized, including 2,635 in the ICU

So, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the ICU in Colombia hasn’t grown very much as the number of coronavirus cases grew dramatically over these 12 days. The coronavirus case count in Colombia increased by a total of 188,068 cases over these 12 days and less than 1 percent of these new cases over these 12 days ended up in the ICU.

However, keep in mind that unconfirmed but suspected coronavirus cases are in the ICU not included in the above numbers and there are other types of patients in the ICUs. So, ICU utilization has surpassed 80 percent in some cities in Colombia.

The following chart shows this graphically by comparing the number of coronavirus cases in Colombia with the number of ICU beds occupied by confirmed coronavirus cases over a period of 25 days from December 23 to January 16:

Number of coronavirus cases in Colombia compared to the number of ICU beds occupied by confirmed coronavirus cases, Source: Instituto Nacional de Salud, Jan 16

Number of coronavirus cases in Colombia compared to the number of ICU beds occupied by confirmed coronavirus cases, Source: Instituto Nacional de Salud, Jan 16

The bottom line is the number of ICU beds occupied by coronavirus cases remains a low percentage of cases. Less than 1 percent of total coronavirus cases are in the ICU, even as the number of coronavirus cases in Colombia increased over these 25 days by 346,268 cases. However, there are also many unconfirmed cases in the ICU.

ICU Occupancy and Capacity in Colombia

According to El Tiempo, on August 13, Colombia had a total of 9,483 ICU beds. This was up from 5,411 ICU beds in May as seen in the following graphic:

ICU occupancy and capacity in Colombia, source: El Tiempo, Instituto Nacional de Salud and Oxford Univeristy, 8/13

ICU occupancy and capacity in Colombia, source: El Tiempo, Instituto Nacional de Salud and Oxford Univeristy, 8/13

Three things are notable in the above graphic:

  • In February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic, Colombia had a total of 5,346 ICU beds, which were 90 percent occupied at the time with 4,810 patients.
  • Colombia added 4,372 ICU beds from March 31 to August 13.
  • On August 13, total ICU occupancy in all of Colombia including COVID-19 patients, suspected COVID-19 patients and other patients was 70.9 percent.

Colombia has been expanding ICU capacity and with plans to to add 2,600 ICUs with ventilators in July and another 800 ICUs in August.  

By December 17, the total number of ICU beds in Colombia had increased to 11,296 ICUs according to El Tiempo. We haven’t seen an update but undoubtedly Colombia has added more ICUs since December 2020.

However, keep in mind that ICU capacity is not only used for confirmed coronavirus patients. There are also suspected coronavirus cases and other patients in the ICU, as seen in the above graphic.

What is normal ICU occupancy?  Before coronavirus, ICUs in many parts of the world were typically occupied at well over 60 percent and Colombia was at 90 percent occupancy in February 2020.

According to the American Hospital Annual Survey in 2015, the U.S. had a 68 percent ICU occupancy and this was before coronavirus.

Recent ICU Occupancy in the Four Largest Cities in Colombia

Below we look at the recent ICU occupancy in the four largest cities in Colombia: Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Barranquilla. ICU occupancy in the three of the four largest cities in Colombia (in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín) has increased to above 90 percent over the past few weeks.

Bogotá ICU Occupancy – 92.8 Percent

A news report in El Tiempo in April reported there were 1,555 ICU beds in Bogotá, which is the city with the most coronavirus cases in Colombia. But the number of ICU beds has increased since that time.

According to RCNRadio, on August 10, on July 28, Bogotá had 1,683 of its total ICU beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients, which were 89 percent occupied on August 10 with confirmed COVID-19 cases or suspected cases. This 89 percent was the same occupancy that was reported in the news on July 28.

However, by January 16, ICU occupancy in Bogotá was 92.8`percent according to Semana. Reportedly Bogotá has starting sending some coronavirus patients to Barranquilla and Cartagena where ICU occupancy is lower.

Medellín ICU Occupancy – 92.48 Percent

On July 30, according to El Tiempo, the department of Antioquia where Medellín is located declared a “red alert” due to ICU occupation reaching over 80 percent. 

According to Minuto30, on January 16, ICU occupancy in the department of Antioquia, where Medellín is located, was 90.0 percent. 

However, on January 16, ICU occupancy was 93.48 percent in Medellín according to the Antioquia Secretary of Health, as seen in the following graphic with ICU occupancy in municipalities in Antioquia.

CU occupancy in municipalities in Antioquia, source Antioquia Secretary of Health, Jan. 16

CU occupancy in municipalities in Antioquia, source Antioquia Secretary of Health, Jan. 16

Antioquia has been taking several actions to reduce ICU occupancy as follows:

  • Non-critical surgeries or procedures that may cause the patient to reach an ICU bed are now postponed in Antioquia.
  • Antioquia is starting to send patients to other departments according to El Colombiano.
  • Antioquia is adding ICU beds and the national government is sending 101 ventilators to Antioquia according to Minuto30.

In October 2020., according to El Colombiano, Antioquia planned to increase its count of ICU beds by adding 160 ICU beds over the following two weeks and add 30 to 40 additional ICUs to reach a goal of 1,400 ICU beds. However, by January 2021, Antioquia had 1.290 ICU beds so is shot 110 beds from the goal in October 2020.

Cali ICU Occupancy – 94 Percent

On August 14, ICU occupation in Cali was 83 percent according to El País. This was down for 93 percent ICU occupancy in Cali in mid July.

By September 23, ICU occupation in Cali had dropped to 60 percent according to El Pais. Also, in Cali they started to free up ICU beds reserved for coronavirus for other types of patients, as ICU occupancy continued to drop. 

On January 16, ICU occupation in Cali was 94 percent according to ElPais.

Barranquilla ICU Occupancy – 62 Percent

In Barranquilla, an “orange alert” was previously declared in June due to ICU occupancy hitting 73 percent with curfews at night and on weekends.

However, due to a decrease in deaths from coronavirus in Barranquilla and an increase in recovered patients, according to CaracolTV, Barranquilla Mayor Jaime Pumarejo decided that the last day of a curfew in Barranquilla was on July 16.

Also, ICU occupancy in Barranquilla has dropped and by July 22, ICU occupancy in Barranquilla dropped to 65 percent according to El Tiempo.

However, according to Infobae, on January 16, ICU occupancy in Barranquilla had dropped  to 62 percent. Reportedly due to low ICU occupancy, Barranquilla will start to receive coronavirus patients from Bogotá.

ICU Occupancy in Other Cities

Here are the ICU occupancies in two other cities in Colombia we found with occupancy that is over 80 percent :

These two cities have experienced a recent increase in coronavirus cases resulting in increased ICU occupancy. Some other cities we track had ICU occupancy of 80 percent or higher but have now have dropped below 80 percent.

Active Coronavirus Cases Were Dropping in Colombia

The number of active coronavirus cases in Colombia were dropping since August but have increased i nthe past few weeks, as see in the following chart:

Total active coronavirus cases by day in Colombia, source: Worldometers, Jan. 20

Total active coronavirus cases by day in Colombia, source: Worldometers, Jan. 20

Where are the Coronavirus Cases Hospitalized in Colombia?

If you want to see hospitalization rates in other cities and towns in Colombia you can see this on the Instituto Nacional de Salud (INS) website. There is a muncipio tab where you can find coronavirus information including hospitalization rates by municipality in Colombia.

Fundación Valle del Lili - ranked the best hospital in Cali and the best in Colombia, photo courtesy of Fundación Valle del Lili

Fundación Valle del Lili – ranked the best hospital in Cali and the best in Colombia, photo courtesy of Fundación Valle del Lili

Hospital Capacity in Colombia

Colombia reportedly has over 3,600 hospitals and clinics in the country. In addition, according to a study in 2017 by Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económico, Colombia had 1.7 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants in Colombia.

This study implies that Colombia has about 85,000 hospital beds in Colombia with a total population of over 50 million in Colombia. But Colombia has added over 6,500 ICU beds in 2020.

On January 16, according to INS there were 21,494 confirmed coronavirus cases in the hospital including cases in the ICU. So, this was about 23.5 percent occupancy of hospital beds in Colombia by confirmed coronavirus cases on January 16.

The following chart compares the number of coronavirus cases in Colombia with the number of coronavirus cases in the hospital including ICU cases over a period of 25 days from December 23 to January 16:

Number of coronavirus cases in Colombia compared to the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the hospital: Source: Instituto Nacional de Salud, Jan. 16

Number of coronavirus cases in Colombia compared to the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the hospital: Source: Instituto Nacional de Salud, Jan. 16

Note that similar to the chart comparing cases to the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the ICU, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the hospital in Colombia remains a low percent of total cases. A total of 17.1 percent of the total confirmed and active coronavirus cases were hospitalized on January 16 according to INS.

This is likely due to many hospitalized coronavirus cases recovering and some dying, as new cases are admitted to the hospital. Also, the number of daily recoveries on some days has started to exceed the number of new daily cases.

However, keep in mind there are also unconfirmed but suspected coronavirus cases in the hospital rooms and ICUs.

The majority of coronavirus cases in Colombia are not considered serious and are treated at home. On January 16, 2021, 82.9 percent of active coronavirus cases in Colombia were being treated and isolated at home and were not in the hospital.

Colombia has 24 of the Best Hospitals in Latin America

Colombia has 24 of the Best Hospitals in Latin America

Healthcare in Colombia

Colombia has 24 of the top 58 clinics and hospitals in Latin America, according to a study in late 2019 by América Economia. So, 41 percent of the best hospitals in Latin America are found in Colombia. Nine of these best hospitals in Latin America are located in Medellín and nine are located in Bogotá.

In 2018, Colombia had 23 of the top 58 hospitals. So, the count in 2019 increased to 24 of the top 58 clinics and hospitals in Latin America for 2019.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Colombia’s healthcare system as #22 out of 191 countries it ranked. And no other countries in Latin America were ranked higher than Colombia. So, according to WHO, Colombia has the best healthcare system in Latin America.

Also, Colombia’s healthcare system is ranked higher than many wealthier countries like the United States (#37), Germany (#25), Canada (#30) and Australia (#32).

In Colombia, it is possible to have access to world-class healthcare at a fraction of the cost compared to the healthcare costs in North America or Europe. Furthermore, the costs for healthcare in Colombia can be significantly lower than the costs found in the U.S.

Due to having the best healthcare system in Latin America, Colombia is probably better positioned than many other countries in Latin America to handle coronavirus.

Health Insurance in Colombia

Health insurance is relatively inexpensive in Colombia and will cover you if you happen to catch COVID-19.

One of the reasons that Colombia has such a highly rated healthcare system is due to a new constitution that Colombia drafted in 1991 that made access to healthcare a basic human right to all citizens of Colombia, as well as foreign residents of Colombia.

There are three types of health insurance available in Colombia:

  1. EPS – Entidadas Promotoras de Salud– this is the public health insurance that is mandatory for everybody who is a resident of Colombia. The monthly premium is calculated as 12.5 percent of the monthly gross income that you declare to the EPS.
  2. Prepagada – this is private healthcare insurance in Colombia. The monthly premium for Prepagada varies depending on your age, the plan you choose and any pre-existing conditions.
  3. SISBEN – this is a free government subsidized healthcare system, which is only for very poor or homeless Colombians.

Medellin Guru has partnered with an insurance broker to offer health insurance, travel insurance and other insurance products like life insurance, homeowners insurance and auto insurance to foreigners and Colombians.

We partnered with Angela Berrio, who is a bilingual insurance broker who speaks English and Spanish. And she has many foreigner clients.

Use the Medellin Guru Insurance Service

Angela’s company offers insurance services to all foreigners and Colombians who need assistance in their process of finding the best insurance protection while living in Colombia. With over ten years of experience, they design the plan that best fits your needs allowing you to enjoy your life abroad.

Computer generated image of COVID-19, photo by Felipe Esquivel Reed

Computer generated image of COVID-19, photo by Felipe Esquivel Reed

Medellin Guru’s Coronavirus Series

Medellin Guru has a series of articles about the coronavirus pandemic and the impacts in Colombia: Also, these articles are being kept up-to-date, as this is a fast-moving topic:

The Bottom Line: Coronavirus Hospitalization in Colombia: Myth vs Reality

The bottom line is that Colombia is treating most coronavirus cases in the country at home. On January 16, 2021, only 17.1 percent of active and confirmed coronavirus cases in Colombia were in the hospital or ICU and 82.9 percent were being treated and isolated at home.

However, by mid-January, three of the four largest cities (Bogotá, Medellín and Cali)  ICU occupancy was over 90 percent.

On January 16, about 23.5 percent of hospital beds in Colombia were occupied by confirmed coronavirus patients based on the INS report of 21,494 total confirmed cases in the hospital (either hospital room or ICU). 

A big concern is that a surge in coronavirus cases would result in not having enough ventilators and ICU beds in Colombia. But, Colombia has been adding ICU capacity each month. Another concern is for some of the smaller cities and towns, which have a much more limited capacity of ICU beds.

Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.

Editors note: updated on November 24, 2020 with data for coronavirus hospitalization data for Colombia on November 23.

Editors note: updated on December 2, 2020 with data for coronavirus hospitalization data for Colombia on November 30.

Editors note: updated on December 8, 2020 with data for coronavirus hospitalization data for Colombia on December 7.

Editors note: updated on December 16, 2020 with data for coronavirus hospitalization data for Colombia on December 14.

Editors note: updated on December 25, 2020 with data for coronavirus hospitalization data for Colombia on December 24.

Editors note: updated on January 2, 2021 with data for coronavirus hospitalization data for Colombia on January 1.

Editors note: updated on January 17, 2021 with data for coronavirus hospitalization data for Colombia on January 16.

Liked it? Take a second to support Medellin Guru on Patreon! The future of Medellin Guru needs the help of readers to remain ad free.