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Delaware hospitals prepare as COVID cases, hospitalizations continue to surge

Beebe Healthcare
Beebe Healthcare

Delaware’s COVID-related hospitalizations are nearing the records set this spring. But the state’s hospitals are not yet at capacity. 

COVID hospitalizations hit 322 this weekend — the highest since they peaked at 337 in late April.

“We are facing a serious situation that promises only to get worse in the weeks ahead,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement Saturday.

Carney has said the state’s total hospital capacity for COVID patients is between 400 and 500, and that the limiting factor will likely be staffing.

According to the state, ICU beds are still less than 75 percent occupied, and hospitals in general are less than 98 percent full, which is considered typical. The state also considers its supply of ventilators “stable.”

ChristianaCare, Beebe and Bayhealth hospital systems all report they’re not at capacity yet.

But Bayhealth has seen a surge of patients at its Kent County Campus—says Dr. Gary Siegelman, the chief medical officer. 

“The Kent numbers have actually tripled in the last two weeks,” Siegelman said.

Bayhealth’s Kent County campus had 24 COVID patients Nov. 24, Siegelman says, and now has 72 to 80.

“Overall, we’re busy at the campuses, we have some patients now we’re holding in the emergency department waiting for beds, and that’s partly due to high volume, it’s partly a process of taking more time to clean the COVID beds,” Siegelman said.

If COVID hospitalizations continue to increase at the same rate, Bayhealth may need to “make some decisions” within the next week or two, Siegelman says. Those decisions may include expanding beds at the Kent County campus or transferring patients to Sussex County. Bayhealth is licensed for about 380 beds total, and could create surge capacity of about 100 additional beds in “makeshift spaces” if needed. 

Siegelman describes capacity as a combination of beds, staff and supplies. He says Bayhealth is not yet short staffed, and has sufficient personal protective equipment including N95 masks and gloves. But he says rapid coronavirus tests have been in short supply.

Bayhealth may look to cancel elective procedures that require an overnight stay at some point — but Sussex County-based Beebe does not plan to.

“What is elective today becomes urgent potentially tomorrow and unfortunately emergent several days after in some of these cases,”  Dr. William Chasanov, an infectious disease physician and [title] at Beebe. “So we have no intent to shut down elective surgeries to try, to prevent that cascade effect from occurring.”

Chasanov says Beebe is not having staffing issues yet.

“Right now we continue to have staff and team members, so that should not be a rate-limiting issue,” Chasanov said. “And we continue to have bed capacity.”

Chasanov admits it’s hard to tell what the next few weeks will look like. But he says Beebe has plans in place to reassign staff and to expand capacity in other areas of the hospital if needed.

Officials at New Castle County-based ChristinaCare believe they have capacity to “meet the needs of the community” throughout the winter. They say they continue to update the contingency plans developed this spring in coordination with state emergency management officials.

“We have the PPE in place, as well as the evidence-based protocols that have proven effective in keeping our caregivers safe,” Sharon Kurfuerst, system chief operating officer at ChristianaCare, said in a statement. “We have effective treatments for COVID-19.”

ChristianaCare’s ambulatory and virtual care teams provide care to COVID-positive patients quarantining at home, which Kurfuerst says often prevents the need for acute care. She says while the health system is “well-prepared for the surge,” the pandemic continues to take a “significant” toll on medical professionals.

“Health care workers across the nation and here at ChristianaCare have been working nonstop for months, demonstrating extraordinary compassion and dedication, under the extremely challenging circumstances created by the pandemic,” Kurfuerst said. “We urge everyone in the community to support our frontline health care workers by taking the important steps that are needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19: Wear a mask. Avoid gatherings large and small. Stay physically distant but socially connected. And wash hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.”

Beebe’s Chasanov echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the need for the public to social distance, wash hands and wear masks.

“Those three simple principles will help slow the spread of the infection and will ultimately save lives,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled William Chasanov's name. 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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