Montco Hospitals Approach ‘Critical Limits' as COVID-19 Cases Spike

Like hospitals, schools are also being impacted because staff are getting infected due to widespread community transmission, said Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners

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Most hospitals in Montgomery County are at or near capacity, and staffing is approaching “critical limits” as coronavirus infections there surge, a top county official warned.

Most hospitals in the county have had to divert patients from their emergency rooms to other medical centers, and some are beginning to cancel scheduled surgeries to make room for more coronavirus patients, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said Wednesday.

“Understand that when a hospital is on divert, that means if you call 911, no matter what your medical emergency, you may not be able to be taken to the closest emergency room,” she said.

The situation has been exacerbated by hospitals elsewhere being unable to send additional staff to help, as was the case in in the spring, because they’re all dealing with COVID-19 surges too, Arkoosh said.

Currently, 362 people are hospitalized with coronavirus in Montgomery County, with 12% of them on a ventilator, the commissioner added.

The county reported two more deaths and 392 infections as of Dec. 2, though some of the new cases include people who were tested days ago and whose results are only being reported now due to delays.

The newly reported infections range in age from a 1-year-old child to a 94-year-old senior, Arkoosh said.

There is a glimmer of good news: according to Arkoosh, the 14-day average coronavirus test positivity rate has slightly gone down to 7.95%, though that’s only a small decrease from the 8.17% rate reported Nov. 19.

Overall, community transmission is still high, though, which is impacting both hospitals and schools, Arskoosh said.

“Much like the situation with our hospitals, these [school] staff are being exposed or infected primarily in the community due to the substantial amount of virus circulating right now,” she said. “So, it’s not just a matter of students getting back into classrooms; it’s making sure that there is a staff there to teach them and make sure their school building is safe and secure.”

The county ordered all schools to go fully virtual over the last two weeks, but they will be allowed to start offering in-person classes starting Monday, Dec. 7.

In total, Montgomery County – which was an early hotspot when the virus first took hold in Pennsylvania – reported at least 21,388 infections and 878 deaths as of Dec. 2. Statewide, at least 10,563 people had died of COVID-19 and more than 379,000 had been infected as of Dec. 2.

The latest viral surge has continued to pummel the country, as well. There have been more than 274,000 deaths and 14 million infections as of Dec. 3, according to NBC News’ coronavirus tracker.

Public health experts have warned that the winter months could be disastrous in terms of viral spread.

"I actually believe they're going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

There is also fear that holiday-related travel, the likes of which the country saw during the Thanksgiving holiday, will cause another spike of infections.

In Montgomery County, Arkoosh noted that officials will likely not know the impact of Thanksgiving travel until next week, given that COVID-19 symptoms can appear days after exposure.

She echoed the calls of other health officials in asking people to wear face masks, maintain six feet of distance from people not in one’s immediate household, avoid congregate settings and nonessential travel and work from home whenever possible.

“The choices that each of us makes over the next several weeks will have a direct impact on our hospitals and our schools,” Arkoosh said.

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