With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Virginia rising to 391, local hospitals are preparing for a surge in critically ill patients.
At 59 coronavirus-related hospitalizations statewide as of Wednesday, the hospital system is, by all accounts, far from overburdened. But many area health care providers are finding ways to increase capacity in the event of the surge of cases like those seen in New York City and Baltimore, where conference centers have been converted to medical support sites.
More than 100 positive tests were reported in Virginia on Wednesday, as the state's coronavirus-related death toll rose to 9. Officials reported that 5,370 people had been tested in the state since the outbreak began.
On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam said the state had recently received its first shipment of personal protective equipment, or PPE, from the federal government’s stockpile and was expecting a second shipment next week. Among the items received were masks, gowns and gloves.
The state had also ordered one shipment from a company overseas, but Northam acknowledged the state will probably need much more and is pursuing partnerships with private industry in Virginia and elsewhere to produce the supplies.
“We know it will not be enough and this is an issue nationwide,” Northam said. “We have the best economic development team in the country and they have excellent contacts with companies. We’re using that network for leads to reach out to private companies to purchase more PPE.”
Hospitals across the area have postponed non-urgent surgeries to prepare for an influx of coronavirus patients and to preserve the supplies necessary to treat them.
Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center said it has postponed “some non-urgent surgeries and procedures to assist us with maximizing our [personal protective equipment] supply and our community’s safety.”
At its hospitals in Manassas, Haymarket and Culpeper, Novant Health UVA Health System has erected emergency triage tents to accomodate a possible influx of patients. According to Novant Chief Quality Officer Michelle Strider, the three hospitals are licensed for 60, 130, and 70 beds, respectively, and have the ability to “flex up” their bed count if necessary.
The system has also issued guidance to discontinue elective surgeries and other outpatient services.
“We continue to monitor patient capacity, supply management and daily operations, as well as taking care of our patients and team during this rapidly evolving situation,” Strider said in an email.
Questions for the state health department’s Northern Virginia public information officer were referred to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association (VHHA), an alliance of health care providers in Virginia that has been coordinating among hospitals, local governments and the state.
Governors across the country have been talking about a need for additional ventilators, which are used in cases of respiratory failure stemming from the virus.
Julian Walker, vice president of communications for the hospital and healthcare association, declined to say exactly how many ventilators hospitals had already hooked up to ICU beds across the state, but he told InsideNoVa that regional health care coalitions had 400 in reserve that could be sent where needed.
Walker also said that some hospital systems, such as Mary Washington Healthcare in Fredericksburg, had already set up “field hospitals” on their premises, and that the federal government had indicated it would be willing to assist with additional hospital beds if needed.
When asked whether the state’s hospitals had enough ventilators and PPE for a surge in patients, Walker said it depends “what the surge scenario looks like,” and added that the large majority of people who contract COVID-19 do not require hospitalization.
On Tuesday, Northam said that as the virus’ spread is staggered from region to region, ventilators may need to be shipped from hospital to hospital. He added that he is working with District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to share excess capacity when possible.
Meanwhile, the state is reaching out to dentists, the technology industry and tobacco manufacturers for help producing masks and gowns, Northam said.
“It’s not so easy to change an assembly line to make [a ventilator] but we are working to source more,” he said.
Other area health care providers have been reluctant to share their number of supplies — like intensive care unit beds, ventilators and protective masks. States with bigger case numbers have reported low supplies.
On Monday, Stafford County made a public call for donations of masks from professionals with a surplus and sewists willing to make ones.
In a public release, Sentara said it is working with London Bridge Trading, a protective clothing company based in Virginia Beach, to sew surgical masks.
“While we are taking every measure to conserve and appropriately allocate personal protective equipment, we may need additional supplies and appreciate donations of all types,” the release noted, listing masks, gloves, gowns, show covers, fog-free face shields and goggles among the needs.
HCA Healthcare, a national company that operates Reston Hospital Center in Fairfax County, said it had everything it needed “at this time,” but spokesperson Todd McGovern declined to go into specifics on whether it had what it would need if cases continue increasing at the same rate.
In an email to InsideNoVa, McGovern said the hospital network is continuously planning to ensure it can meet the “needs of the communities we serve as the situation continues to evolve.”
“To ensure we are prepared for an influx of patients, we have staffing contingency plans, and those include the use of HCA Healthcare’s in-house staffing agency,” McGovern said, adding that the company has been asking staff to conserve protective equipment without breaking guidelines for prevention.