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Challenge 5: How does COVID-19 affect the respiratory system?

Learning Targets:

  • I can make and use a model demonstrating lung function.
  • I can explain how ventilators help people breathe if they have Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome associated with COVID-19.
Estimated Time: 40 minutes


Refer to the following resource summarizing the characteristics of COVID-19 to answer the questions below (Interim Clinical Guidance for Management of Patients with Confirmed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)).

  1. Research: Use the information provided to determine the factors that distinguish mild/moderate cases of COVID-19 from those that are severe. Write down those factors.
  2. Evaluate: Are there any symptoms that are common to all types of cases mild to severe?
  3. Define: What is asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19?
  4. Research: Did you find any risk factors that seem to be associated with having a poorer outcome (more severe case)?


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 3-17% of COVID-19 patients develop a complication known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). With ARDS patients lose the ability to breathe normally and this is known as respiratory failure that results from severe inflammation in the lungs. Inflammation arises when there is damage to cells and in the case of COVID-19, which infects lung cells and damages them. Inflammation causes swelling, which is the result of increased fluid moving to the site of injury or damage. Unfortunately, when fluid moves into the lungs, the lungs cannot perform their normal function, taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. Watch the video below to learn more about lung function and then read the following article to learn how ventilators can help patients who are experiencing ARDS.


How do Lungs Work?



Construct a drawing of how molecules in the air move in and out of lung tissue.

Discuss & Reflect:

  1. What is the role of diffusion in the movement of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs? In which direction does oxygen move? Carbon dioxide?
  2. How does a ventilator work to help someone with ARDS breathe?
  3. What is “proning” and why do doctors do this with patients who are on ventilators?

Research & Write:

Why is it important that we “flatten the curve” during this COVID-19 pandemic with respect to the availability of ventilators? Find a few credible sources that indicate if the hospitals in the US have an adequate supply of ventilators. What do the sources report?