Although Fayette County is not among the 24 counties that will partially reopen on Friday, Uniontown Hospital’s chief medical officer said they remain prepared for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Surabhi Gaur, Uniontown Hospital’s CMO, said that the area is on the downward slope of cases after a short peak.
“We’ve been lucky so far. All the measures put in place and peoples’ compliance have led to a relatively short peak of mass cases,” she said.
During the peak and throughout the pandemic, the hospital had plenty of capacity to treat additional cases. The hospital has completed 1,200 tests for the coronavirus, and 44 of those came back positive as of Wednesday. About 1% of those tested were hospitalized with a confirmed case.
Other facilities in Fayette County have also done virus testing. As of Saturday, there were 82 positive cases in the county, according to the state Department of Health, and 1,878 residents tested negative.
“It’s going to be a fine line for the entire nation to walk, but our community will be a microcosm of that,” said Uniontown Hospital Community Relations Director Josh Krysak. “Social distancing measures that people can control themselves – like masking and maintaining their space between one another – they’re absolutely necessary in tamping this down as much as possible.”
Gaur and Krysak said the hospital is in a good position to continue testing, and do not have a shortage in testing supplies.
The hospital had measures in place to expand their facilities, but implementing the protocols was not necessary.
“From an ICU facility standpoint, we never got close to expanding,” Krysak said.
He said their 145-bed facility could be expanded to 180, and their numbers of ICU patients never neared 75% of its capacity even without the expansion.
Gaur said if a local surge is created in areas that reopen May 8, the area would not see the effects of that until the end of May or early June. She noted Mother’s Day comes shortly after a possible lift in stay-at-home orders, and noted caution should be used even once the the order has been lifted.
“Assuming your mother is relatively healthy, is it OK to see her? Probably. But is it OK to have 25 of her relatives in her house? No,” she said, speaking of areas with the orders lifted. “Just because you’re allowed to doesn’t mean you should. If you stop following the rules, the possibilities go away. Be smart, and don’t let us all get penalized because you took advantage of a little bit of leeway.”
Krysak said the counties that enter the yellow phase will be “a test run” to show how fewer restrictions effect the spread of the virus, and, in case of a surge, the hospital’s plans are still in place.
“We have a lot of plans in place for a lot of things here. This was something new for us, as it was for the rest of the country,” he said. “Those protocols are still available to us. In case there is a surge, we can put those protocols back in place.”
Gaur said some measures will likely be in place permanently, and that universal masking will probably become common. She said public places, like pools and parks, may see long-term changes in procedures.
“Whatever we did a year ago, we may never be that America again,” she said.
Contact tracing could also be a game-changer, she said, but it requires huge amounts of manpower to do it properly. Antibody testing has been oversimplified, she said, because we do not know whether the virus has already mutated, and it will likely mutate by the fall. A combination of a vaccine and a definitive treatment for the coronavirus will be necessary to return the country closer to normalcy, which will likely take 1 to 2 years.
In the meantime, both said the hospital is equipped to handle the virus.
“We’re just like everyone else, living through this and going through this. We’re cautiously optimistic that the curve was flattened, that those awful projections are not what’s going to happen at this time,” Krysak said.
He added there are few things that can be controlled, but taking small steps to keep each other safe can be controlled.
“I think it’s going to become a really big part of what life is,” he said.