COVID-19 case numbers continue to surge to record levels in Vermont, and the spread is particularly high in Washington County, where 265 cases have been reported in the last two weeks.
The case count in the central Vermont county is far higher than what it experienced in the spring, when the highest case numbers were reported in Chittenden County. So is the health care system in Washington County prepared to handle this uptick in coronavirus cases?
To explore this question, VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Anna Noonan, president and chief operating officer of Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Henry Epp: Hospitalizations often lag behind new cases of COVID-19. So are you seeing an increase in COVID-19 patients at CVMC yet?
Anna Noonan: Yes, we are. We've seen an uptick that started in the last few weeks with increased admissions and increased prevalence even of individuals coming in through our emergency department.
Can you say at this point how many people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in central Vermont?
We currently have five individuals that are hospitalized, one in our ICU and the rest in a unit that we've converted to focus primarily on COVID-19 patients.
And what's your capacity like, both in terms of space and staff to care for COVID-19 patients, in case you see a significantly higher number?
So it's important to keep in mind that we've been continually ready to care for the community need and that capacity has been maintained throughout, even when we had absolutely no admissions in our acute care setting.
So we have a lot of planning that we've done around this so we can increase our capacity, or bring it down as required by the need of the community. So we flex up and down as needed to meet that demand.
Hospitals were scrambling back in the spring to get the necessary protective equipment and supplies to deal with a potential influx of cases. Do you still have the adequate PPE and other supplies that you need in case you see a significantly higher number of patients coming in?
Absolutely. So we have very solid supply chain streams at this point. We have adequate PPE for our staff, and we've also diversified the type of PPE we're utilizing as well, as we've come to learn how to work with this particular virus. Obviously, our systems and processes have been refined, so we're well-positioned from the standpoint of supply chain and also from the standpoint of pharmaceuticals to treat COVID-19 patients.
In terms of your planning for different scenarios around COVID-19, do you have a plan in place if you were to see a real surge in patients that went beyond the hospital's capacity? And what exactly would that look like?
Yes, as part of our planning process, we have a surge plan. And basically what that means is we run a number of scenarios and we color code them. So, you know, green is sort of normal capacity all the way up to red, which is beyond our capacity. And we have plans across our organization here for how we would meet those different levels of demand.
And so, in terms of that scale you mentioned, where are you now? Are you in green or above?
We're actually in green, because even though we've had actually more acute care admissions and COVID in the last couple of weeks than we had last April and May, we are still, because of our systems and protocols, able to handle that capacity. So we're we're in green right now.
Washington County had not seen cases at the level that it's seen now up to this point, up to the last few weeks. Were you surprised at all to see the number of cases rise to the point that it has in the last few weeks?
You know, I think we anticipated it, to be honest. We knew that when the colder weather sets in and people were less able to be outside and socially distanced and began moving inside, that there was the chance that we would begin to see an increase in cases.
And, you know, it doesn't take much to have that prevalence increase. So, again, I think it's just critical for everyone to follow the recommendations from Gov. Scott's office and the Vermont Department of Health. So we knew that this would likely happen, and we were ready for it.
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