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This Concise Critical Appraisal explores a Lancet Respiratory Medicine article by Ramanathan et al, which outlines how to plan for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for patients with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) related to COVID-19. ECMO is a complex therapy usually restricted to specialized centers. World Health Organization guidelines suggest that carefully selected patients with ARDS may benefit. The authors explore how good planning can help during outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases.