Pennsylvania sounds the alarm on COVID-19 hospitalizations


Pennsylvania health officials worry COVID-19 patients will overrun hospitals as the virus surges across the state.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday the test positivity rate – one of several indicators used to measure how quickly the virus is spreading – has reached 14.4 percent, with nine counties reporting rates beyond 20 percent. Anything above 5 percent is considered “concerning,” Levine said.

Hospitalizations climbed to more 5,500 on Tuesday with several hospitals reporting “very few” critical beds left. “Crowded conditions and dwindling resources are a reality across the commonwealth,” Wolf said.

Statewide, confirmed cases of COVID-19 doubled from 200,000 to more than 400,000 in just six weeks.

“If we don't slow the spread of this dangerous virus now, the reality is that COVID-19 will overwhelm our hospitals and our health care workers,” Wolf said. ‘That's dangerous for everyone who needs medical care in a hospital for any reason, because it stretches resources and staff to the breaking point.”

Maureen Casey, a nurse at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, said it’s already happening.

“What we feared in the spring then did not occur, but it is occurring now,” she said. “Like waves on a shore, it just keeps coming. Nurses go home, cry in the shower, cry alone in their car because of the desperation and exhaustion they feel.”

Casey warned the hospital’s capacity nears its limit “and flu hasn’t really even started yet.”

“We have to do something to flatten the curve as we did in the spring,” she said.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) – the state’s largest health care system – struck a more confident tone during a news conference Tuesday led by Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Leslie Davis.

“UPMC can flex up the number of both medical and intensive care beds to meet the needs of our patients,” she said. “We’ve gotten smarter about caring for COVID-19 patients and we are seeing a far lower proportion of critically ill patients who need intensive care and mechanical ventilation than we saw in the spring.”

So far, the Wolf administration has yet to reinstate economic and travel restrictions that were used in the spring to slow the spread of the virus, though the governor warned Monday that current mitigation efforts “are not working.”

“The point all of us are making is, Pennsylvania, we have a problem and we all have to address it together,” he said. “We are continuing to look at the numbers and if we have to do more, we will.”

“Very shortly we will come back with more recommendations,” he said.

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