LONGVIEW — Local hospitals are preparing for an increase in COVID-19 cases this fall and winter as virus activity increases nationally and regionally, PeaceHealth officials said last week.
Dr. Lawrence Neville, chief medical officer for PeaceHealth Southwest and St. John medical centers, said in a press conference that health officials are concerned the area may be entering a period of increased COVID-19 activity.
However, the hospitals have enough capacity, personal protective equipment and contingency plans to deal with a spike, he said.
Neville said hospitalizations at PeaceHealth Southwest have increased to the number recorded earlier in the pandemic, with typically 12 to 13 beds filled at any given time. PeaceHealth St. John transfers Cowlitz County virus patients to the Vancouver hospital.
PeaceHealth Southwest has a 16-bed, COVID-19 unit, as well as seven beds set aside in the intensive care unit for virus patients, Neville said. The hospital is able to expand capacity within 24 hours or less if needed, he said. PeaceHealth Southwest would expand capacity before opening up a COVID-19 unit at St. John, said Randy Querin, a PeaceHealth spokesman.
The hospitals have an adequate amount of personal protective equipment for staff and patients to last through the winter, Neville said.
Neville said PeaceHealth is committed to keeping all the usual care going through the winter. In March, as part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, hospitals and clinics suspended elective procedures.
Every PeaceHealth patient admitted to the hospital or who is undergoing a procedure is tested for COVID-19.
Improvements and expansion of COVID-19 treatments has helped lower patient mortality, Neville said. The treatments are preliminary, as studies of their effectiveness are still underway, he said.
Neville said patients with moderate or severe COVID-19 cases treated with steroid dexamethasone has helped lower mortality. The hospital also uses anti-viral remdesivir to help treat patients with falling oxygen levels, he said. Doctors also treat patients with plasma from COVID-19 survivors, in hopes of giving them antibodies to fight off the virus, Neville said.
Rather than putting patients on a respirator earlier in their treatment, Neville said providers often will flip them on their stomachs to help oxygenate their blood and lungs.
While treatments have helped more people survive COVID-19, the disease has risen to the third-leading cause of death in the United States following heart disease and cancer, Neville said.
The mortality rate of COVID-19 is not completely known, but it’s about 0.5 percent to 1 percent, about five to 10 times higher than the typical flu, Neville said.
Neville stressed the importance of getting flu vaccines this year to help prevent overwhelming the hospital system.
Many doctors are worried about people letting their guard down during the holidays, leading them to get sick, Neville said.
“There are no easy answers related to this,” he said. “The guidance I would give is recognize it is a tough situation, recognize it is tough choices, and it’s not perfect.”
If people travel over the holidays, they should do so with protections, make sure no family members are sick and keep groups as small as possible, Neville said.