The virus that causes COVID-19 is infecting people and spreading easily from person to person. Cases have been detected in most countries worldwide and community spread is being detected in a growing number of countries. On March 11, the COVID-19 outbreak was characterized as a pandemic by the WHO. Reported illnesses have ranged from very mild (including some with no reported symptoms) to severe, including illness resulting in death. While information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illness is mild, and serious illness occurs in 16% of cases . As the respiratory system changes based on the severity level, the monitoring of the respiratory mechanic become a vital part of guiding therapeutic strategies and interventions for patients with COVID-19.
COVID-19 Research and the Importance of Respiratory Mechanics Monitoring
Recent autopsy of deceased COVID-19 patients found that their lung tissue had obvious bleeding and necrotic damage with thick mucus attached deeply in airways. Pathophysiological changes in the lungs can be shown in respiratory mechanics (airway resistance and lung compliance)[2,3]. Therefore, monitoring the respiratory mechanics would help to give early warnings when the patient’s health begins to deteriorate. Therefore, it is highly relevant in guiding ventilation strategies and parameter adjustments for the patient.
Fig. 1 Right pleura thickening extensive adhesion with the right lung;
Fig. 2 Gray white patchy lesions in the left lung;
Fig. 3 Gray white viscous fluid overflow in the lung section, and fiber bands can be seen;
Fig. 4 White foam mucus in the trachea;
Lung gross examination. Gross morphology of the right lung (A and B) and of the left lung (C and D). Hemorrhagic necrosis is obvious in the outer edge of pulmonary right lobe.
Respiratory Mechanics Monitoring of COVID-19 Patients
Respiratory mechanics are based on Newtonian mechanics, as expressed in the equation of motion. To implicit its simplest form, the respiratory system can be modeled as a balloon connected to a tube. The balloon represents the elastic element (lungs and chest wall), and the tube represents the resistive element (conducting airways). The pressure provided by the ventilator need to overcome the resistance of the airway, to expand the lung with tidal volume and provide with a given PEEP (positive end-expiratory pressure, a positive pressure at the end-of-breath).
1. Airway resistance
The normal airway resistance of patients under invasive mechanical ventilation is approximately 5-10 cmH₂O/L/s. When the airway resistance exceeds this range, it means that the airway resistance is too high. Clinicians must be vigilant about the possibilities of causes such as sputum or bronchospasm. Increased airway resistance would have typical waveforms (see the charts):
Generally speaking, DP > 12 cmH₂O may increase the risk of lung injury and mortality. Pplat generally≤30cmH₂O is used as a protective lung strategy [4,5]. It should also be noted when calculated compliance of the respiratory system, the PEEP in the formula is not the ventilator setting, but the PEEPtotal (end-expiratory alveolar pressure)
For healthy adult, the compliance of the respiratory system is approximately 100ml/cmH₂O, and the value of patients under mechanical ventilation will be lower, usually around 60ml/cmH₂O. When the patient's compliance is reduced, it means that there are restrictive factors within the lungs, such as pulmonary edema, atelectasis, pulmonary consolidation, chest wall disease, pleural effusion, pneumothorax, etc. Decrease in respiratory compliance would often show waveforms like as the following.
 Wei-jie Guan, et al. Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China. N Engl J Med 2020
 Liu Liang et al, Gross examination report of a COVID-19:Decease autopsy, Journal of Forensic Medicine, February 2020, Vol.36, No.1
 Luo, W.; Yu, H.; Gou, J.; Li, X.; Sun, Y.; Li, J.; Liu, L. Clinical Pathology of Critical Patient with Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia (COVID-19). Preprints 2020, 2020020407
 Amato et al, Driving Pressure and Survival in the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.N Engl J Med 2015; 372:747-755
 Gattinoni et al, Driving pressure and mechanical power: New targets for VILI prevention. Ann Transl Med 2017;5(14):286