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Are Virginia hospitals prepared for a potential flood of COVID-19 patients?

"We know that medical equipment such as this will become a scarce resource, so we are putting together plans to help delineate that approach."
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Posted at 11:52 PM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 23:52:41-04

RICHMOND, Va. - The Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association said there are hundreds of ventilators in reserve across the state that can be deployed as needed, but they were unable to give us an exact number of ventilators available to help patients breath if hospitalized with COVID-19.

The Chief Deputy Commissioner for the VDH overseeing Public Health and Preparedness also said some of the ventilators in their possession are in disrepair

"We need to plan to ensure we get as much in working order as we can. We know that medical equipment such as this will become a scarce resource, so we are putting together plans to help delineate that approach," Jaberi said.

Modeling new social-distancing protocols, Dr. Jaberi spoke with CBS 6 over a FaceTime interview and discussed how prepared the Commonwealth is to handle a potential flood of COVID-19 patients.

"The one individual I was consulted on was a younger individual with asthma," Jaberi said. "I think this is uncharted territory for a lot of us, but it does not mean we are unprepared."

He confirmed that intensive care units in Virginia hospitals are already full, not because of COVID-19, but because that is how our hospitals operate.

"The idea has been to operate the hospitals very close to capacity," Jaberi said. "Our hospitals, our doctors only have a certain capacity to take care of patients."

And that's why health experts said everyone needs to be social distancing right now.

"To try to limit the number of cases that actually happen and hopefully to get things in place so that by the fall we return to a semblance of what is normal activity," Dr. Dan Hanfling, a longtime ER doctor who also serves as a Vice President at In-Q-Tel.

In-Q-Tel focuses on health security requirements that support National Security.

Doctor Hanfling said we can learn a lot from other countries who have controlled the spread of COVID-19 through extreme measures to curb interaction.

"What we like to say is we don't want anyone to be a link in the chain, we want you to be able to break the chain," Hanfling said.

Hanfling urges people to lay low, and avoid places like gyms where patients may be shedding viral particles as a result of their heavy breathing and rapid, deep exhalations.

Something that is a very real possibility since our ability to test for the virus in the U.S. has been very limited so far.

"If you can't see it and you can't diagnose it, you can't treat it and you can't manage it," Hanfling said

And, that's the big unknown right now, according to Dr. Bill Petri, an infectious disease expert at UVA.

Since people can carry the virus for up to 14 days with no symptoms, it's difficult to know if social distancing efforts in the U.S. happened fast enough to blunt the spread of COVID-19.

"The mortality is significantly higher than influenza, best guess is that 3 percent of people that have this are going to succumb to it, and about 1/5 is going to have symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization," Petri said. "If there truly was pandemic spread where most people were getting infected than that is millions of people that could die from it."

On a positive note, the private sector is ramping up testing capabilities, according to Petri.

Doctor Petri said UVA did not have enough test kits last week, but he said that problem will soon end with more widespread testing coming online this week.