Hospitals urge caution as virus patients spike

“Compared to the spring and summer, numbers have quadrupled,” Dr. Rutul Dalal, UPMC Susquehanna infectious diseases medical director, said.

Geisinger professionals are seeing the exact same thing systemwide, with 228 admitted COVID patients across the system. Four patients are inpatient at the Jersey Shore Hospital Intensive Care Unit and 26 at the Geisinger Medical Center Danville ICU. Systemwide, ICU patients remains at 57.

Geisinger has averaged 30 new COVID admissions per day in the last two weeks.

Testing data from Geisinger also has shown that the positivity rate was at 18 percent in the second half of November, showing that one in every five people is receiving a positive COVID-19 test.

“Geisinger has seen more than 6,800 positive COVID-19 tests in November, and that is enough to fill BB&T Ballpark and Historic Bowman Field nearly three times,” Geisinger professionals stated.

“The staff is stressed, there is no question about that…” Dr. Gerald Maloney, Geisinger chief medical officer of hospital services, said. “They know everyday there is going to be additional COVID patients.”

“There is some anxiety,” Dalal continued.

In the north central region of the state, 91 patients have tested positive across the UPMC system according to Dalal.

He did not give specific numbers as to how many patients are in the local ICUs.

With the rapid increase in positivity rates and infection, also comes concern about where the community spread is coming from and if there is enough capacity within our local hospitals to take care of the ever-growing patient population.

State department of health numbers from Tuesday at noon show Lycoming County to have a total of 68 patients hospitalized with 16 adult patients in the ICU and eight on ventilators.

The data continues to show that there are no adult ICU beds available, while there are 43 medical and surgical beds available.

Tioga County numbers are similar with 18 patients hospitalized, six in the ICU, five on ventilators and zero adult ICU beds available.

“Some UPMC hospitals are reaching the capacity,” Dr. Dalal continued.

Dr. Dalal however did not seem concerned about the local UPMC hospitals going over capacity.

“Within the system we can move patients … all hands are on deck,” he continued. “We can double the ICU capacity, but it’s not needed at this point. We are not to the point where we should be fearful.”

“”Right now we are really tight on beds. We have gotten very close to capacity … it is startling,” Dr. Maloney said about Geisinger. “We have managed during unprecedented capacity demands. We are looking at what we can expect and are making decisions in advance.”

Both added that they are confident that each healthcare system will not have to close certain departments or stopping non-emergent procedures at this time, but that decision could change if the spread continues to worsen.

Dr. Maloney described Geisinger’s approach as using a “dimmer switch” and monitoring the community needs by the day.

Both doctors also added that with this increase in infection spread and hospitalization comes a silver lining–not as many patients are dying from COVID-19 and not as many are needing more intensive treatment like ventilators.

While Dr. Dalal describes this shift as a “mutation of the virus” that is more easily transmissible between people, Dr. Maloney describes the shift as “knowing more about the virus and treatments”.

“The patients aren’t as sick and there aren’t many people ( in inpatient) needing additional support,” Dr. Dalal said.

“Our understanding has changed,” Dr. Maloney said. “We now know a lot more, we don’t know everything but symptoms are different in every person. We haven’t figured out why one person is hit with a certain symptom complex and others are hit with different ones.”

He added that now, there are more steroid treatments and therapies for COVID-19 patients than there were in the spring and summer.

“Right now we have more people needing to be in the hospital, but that is because there are more infections in the community. I am confident that if a patient comes in today, we have a greater chance of keeping them out of the ICU and successfully discharged out of the hospital,” Dr. Maloney continued.

However the doctors seem to be sure about one thing — and that is how exactly the virus is being spread.

“There are people who don’t understand that even if they feel well, they may not be well,” Dr. Maloney said.

“COVID fatigue, we have been battling it since March and now it is almost the end of the year,” Dr. Dalal said.

Both agree that with the weather changing, more activities and school being done indoors, increased travel and family gatherings with the holidays all with a lack of proper ventilation and social distancing are some of the primary factors as to why the spread is the worst it has been.

“The COVID virus, SARS-CoV2, loves these temperatures and thrives in it,” Dr. Dalal added.

“This virus behaves differently when the ventilation isn’t good, it hangs in the air,” Dr. Maloney added. “Generally we are getting close and the ventilation isn’t good…going about life as we know it. It has not been treated as a public health measure. The frustrating thing is that this doesn’t have to happen.”

Both doctors continued to urge readers and locals alike to wear their masks, social distance and avoid any gatherings if possible.

Dr. Dalal even said to do virtual hangouts with family and friends to remain social during this time.

“The heroes that we speak about, the nurses and therapists and doctors, if we want to find a way to thank them, wear your mask and don’t make them work so hard. It is as simple as that.”

“There will always be another Christmas and another New Years, life once lost is lost forever,” Dr. Dalal said.


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