Management in the ICU

  • Management of severe COVID-19 in not different from management of most viral pneumonia causing respiratory failure (1)

  • The principal feature of patients with severe disease is the development of ARDS: a syndrome characterized by acute onset of hypoxemic respiratory failure with bilateral infiltrates

  • Evidence-based treatment guidelines for ARDS should be followed, including (1)

    • Conservative fluid strategies for patients without shock, following initial resuscitation (goal is to maintain a euvolemic to negative fluid balance)

    • Empirical early antibiotics for suspected bacterial co-infection until a specific diagnosis is made

    • Earlier intubation and avoidance of NIV (High-flow nasal cannula, BiPAP) (2)

      • NIV should generally be avoided due to its unproven utility in patients with severe respiratory failure, ARDS, or a trajectory that suggests invasive ventilation is inevitable due to increased risk of virus aerosolization.

      • In such circumstances, patients should be transitioned from oxygen therapy via a simple facemask to intubation and invasive ventilation without delay. 

      • *Non-rebreather masks provide sub-optimal pre-oxygenation and promote aerosolization and are not recommended for this purpose. 

      • *Nasal oxygen therapy (via standard or high flow nasal cannulae) should not be used during pre-oxygenation or for apnoeic oxygenation due to the risk of virus aerosolization to the intubation team. 

    • Rapid sequence intubation should be used as the default technique unless there are concerns with the airway that make this inappropriate (2)

      • Airway assessment must show no signs of difficulty in intubation 

    • Lung-protective ventilation (Tidal volumes 6cc/kg) (3)

    • High PEEP strategies (Tables are available to guide PEEP titration based on the FiO2 required to maintain SpO2) (4)

    • Prone positioning (if P/F ratio persistently < 150) (5,6)

    • Consideration of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) refractory hypoxemia (salvage therapy) (7)






















































  1. Murthy S, Gomersall CD, Fowler RA. Care for Critically Ill Patients With COVID-19. JAMA. Published online March 11, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3633

  2. Brewster, D.J., Chrimes, N.C., Do, T.BT., et al., Consensus statement: Safe Airway Society principles of airway management and tracheal intubation specific to the COVID-19 adult patient group. The Medical Journal of Australia. Published online: 16 March, 2020, link:

  3. Rhodes A, Evans LE, Alhazzani W, Levy MM, Antonelli M, Ferrer R et al. Surviving Sepsis Campaign: International Guidelines for Management of Sepsis and Septic Shock: 2016. Intensive Care Med. 2017;43(3):304-77. Epub 2017/01/20. doi: 10.1007/s00134-017-4683-6. PubMed PMID: 28101605.

  4. NHLBI ARDS Network Tools [website]. (, accessed 4 March 2020).

  5. Guerin C, Reignier J, Richard JC, Beuret P, Gacouin A, Boulain T et al. Prone positioning in severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. N Engl J Med. 2013;368(23):2159-68. Epub 2013/05/22. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1214103. PubMed PMID: 23688302. 

  6. Messerole E, Peine P, Wittkopp S, Marini JJ, Albert RK. The pragmatics of prone positioning. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002;165(10):1359-63. Epub 2002/05/23. doi: 10.1164/rccm.2107005. PubMed PMID: 12016096.

  7. Combes A, Hajage D, Capellier G, Demoule A, Lavoue S, Guervilly C et al. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation for severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(21):1965-75. Epub 2018/05/24. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1800385. PubMed PMID: 29791822.

Contact Us

© 2020 by MMAC. Proudly created with

Icon made by Freepik from

Icon credits to Adrien Coquet from The Noun Project