Delaware hospitals gear up for potential virus crisis

WILMINGTON — As the number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to climb, the state is prepping its hospital system to ensure it won’t be overwhelmed if the number rises to new levels.

When the pandemic first hit in the spring, the primary concern was if Delaware hospitals would have enough hospital beds to care for the critically ill. Now the main worry for the state is if there’s enough hospital staff to deal with a potential crisis, according to A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency.

“I think the other factor that’s going to be limiting us before actual bed space is staffing for hospital and critical care individuals,” Mr. Schall said. “So we have to look at the health of the overall medical field, not just the number of beds we have available in any one place.”

Gov. John Carney agreed, saying last week that the No. 1 issue at hospitals this winter will be available staff.

“They’ve lost considerable revenue so they’ve got to run as tightly as they can at the moment,” Gov. Carney said. “They’ve done an amazing job doing most of the testing back in the spring and being a great partner all the way through.”

Delaware’s hospital bed space never approached its capacity even during the height of the pandemic in early spring.

The peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations came on April 27 when there were 337 individuals hospitalized with the virus. According to the American Hospital Association, Delaware has more than 2,000 permanent acute care beds.

In Saturday’s COVID-19 update, which reflects data as of Friday at 6 p.m., the Delaware Division of Public Health reported 172 hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those currently hospitalized, 29 are considered critical.

Delaware has about 400 to 450 beds available for critical care depending on the day, according to the state. Its ventilator capacity is about the same, though it is important to note not all individuals hospitalized need to go on ventilators.

Mr. Schall said there is no reserve hospital set up at the moment, but the state has options if it needs to create additional capacity.

“We still have the agreement with Nemours. They gave us one of their wings,” Mr. Schall said. “So we could turn that on.”

According to the Delaware Healthcare Association, the state has the ability to provide more than 1,000 additional temporary beds to treat a surge in patients. These plans have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic.

One thing which is different now compared to the spring, is hospitals are again doing elective surgeries. When the pandemic first hit, all elective surgeries were pushed back to give the hospital both more people and more beds to deal COVID-19 patients.

This could change if the situation in Delaware worsens again. Positive cases of COVID-19 have been rising with Delaware’s seven-day rolling average of new daily cases are at 417.2 new cases per day as of Friday at 6 p.m. Hospitalizations tend to be a lagging indicator, as cases go up, hospitalizations typically increase throughout the following days or weeks.

Routine conference calls between state officials and hospitals have helped prep for any significant increases.

“They keep us up to date on the critical nature of the patients that they have and their emergency rooms and in their critical care units,” Gov. Carney said.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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