Deliveries are streaming into local hospitals like Stony Brook Southampton as they try to double their bed capacity to prepare for an anticipated surge in coronavirus hospitalizations.
A drive-thru COVID-19 testing site opened at ProHEALTH urgent care clinic in Riverhead on Monday. Michael Wright
Local hospitals say that they are — for now, at least — keeping up with the growing demand for hospital beds, medical equipment and protective equipment for their staff members as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections climbed to over 100 on the South Fork this week.
Stony Brook Southampton Hospital has now set a goal of doubling the number of beds it has within its Southampton Village facility, and is still not actively preparing to have to set up off-campus sites. The hospital is aggressively searching to augment its supplies of face masks and safety garb for its staff, and new ventilators to help expand intensive care capabilities.
“Our supplies ... are adequate for current needs, but may be strained as we anticipate a surge over the next few weeks,” a statement from the hospital’s director of communications, Barbara-Jo Howard, said. “We are keenly monitoring quantities and have taken innovative steps to reach beyond traditional supply chains to help bolster our supplies.”
The number of cases county-wide more than tripled in the last week, to more than 6,700 as of Tuesday afternoon — increasing by 1,000 on Monday alone. A total of 53 Suffolk County residents — ranging in age from 33 to 97 —have now died from COVID-19 infections, up from 17 as of early last week.
On the South Fork, the number of confirmed cases climbed from just 36 on March 24 to 125 this Tuesday. Southampton Town residents accounted for 99 cases as of Tuesday, East Hampton Town residents another 24. Riverhead has had 82 confirmed cases and Shelther Island still has had only one.
At least four South Fork residents have died from complications related to the virus, two of them residents of Peconic Landing, the senior living and care facility in Greenport where an outbreak has killed at least eight residents and sickened several others and more than dozen staff members.
Most foreboding, the number of people hospitalized county-wide with coronavirus infections has jumped in the last week from 163 to 708, and the number who are in intensive care units has increased from 50 to 229, as the percentage of those who have tested positive who are now hospitalized climbed from 8 percent last week to more than 10 percent this week.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said this week that the effects of coronavirus are especially stressful on the supplies of intensive care beds, and the respiratory support they provide, because patients with COVID-19 who wind up needing a mechanical ventilator can require them for between 11 and 21 days, as compared to the three to four days a typical intensive care patient would need mechanical breathing support.
Just 67 intensive care unit beds were available in all of Suffolk County as of Tuesday, according to Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott.
Ms. Howard, the Southampton Hospital spokeswoman, said the hospital currently has open ICU beds, but would not say how many. A Northwell Health spokesperson said that PBMC is currently at about 70-percent capacity.
County-wide, the hospital system has already added more than 500 beds to its total capacity, and about 85 intensive care units, with their vital respiratory support capabilities.
Stony Brook Southampton has posted advisories that all elective surgeries and procedures have been suspended until further notice, and that walk-ins are no longer being accepted for X-rays or lab work. All lab work at Stony Brook’s healthcare centers in East Hampton and Westhampton is suspended.
Testing continues to be the main thrust of medical efforts, while an industrial-sized effort grinds on behind the scenes to create huge numbers of new hospital beds. The county has administered more than 17,000 tests
A new drive-thru testing site opened on Monday at the ProHEALTH urgent care center in Riverhead and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced on Tuesday that a new test is being pushed into production by a Long Island company that could return results within 15 minutes, rather than the two to four days it is taking to get results from most tests currently. Mr. Bellone said that the new tests will be in use next week.
“The most important thing going forward, I think, is going to be the antibody testing,” Mr Bellone said on Tuesday, of a new test being developed that looks for signs of antibodies specific to the novel coronavirus that people who have had the disease and either not developed symptoms or have recovered would be expected to have in their blood. “Many people have had it and … never had symptoms. That is the testing that we need to do on a broad basis.”
Governor Cuomo echoed the sentiment that advances in testing will be the key to getting a handle on the virus and getting the state back to work.
“You tell me when they have come up with a home test that can be brought to volume — that’s when you see a real return to normalcy in the workforce,” he said early this afternoon at a press conference in Albany. “If you could test, today, millions of people, you can send them to work tomorrow.”
Medical experts have also been pushing for the development of a test for antibodies to the COVID-19 coronavirus, suspecting that many people have likely contracted the virus without developing strong symptoms and may have built up antibodies in their blood system. If those antibodies can be detected by a test, a person could be allowed to return to work safely.
As New York State, now the nation’s most infected and fastest spreading state, engages in an nationwide and international struggle to drum up medical equipment and protective garb for its health care workers, the governor asked residents to consider the situations tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and emergency responders are putting themselves in for the sake of staving off the worst impacts of the virus on the sick.
“They are doing God’s work,” the governor said during a briefing on Tuesday. “Can you imagine the nurses who leave their homes in the morning, who kiss their children goodbye, go to a hospital, put on gowns, deal with people who have the coronavirus? They’re thinking all day long ‘Oh, my God, I hope I don’t get this. Oh my God, I hope I don’t get this and bring it home to my children.’ You want to talk about extraordinary individuals. Extraordinary.”
“They’re doing it for your family,” he added.
He also said over the weekend that state health professionals have developed a new method of testing for the virus that is less “intrusive” than the current deep nasal and throat swabs. The new test, the governor said, would allow a person to self-administer the test by providing a saliva sample and a shallower nasal swab. The system could reduce demand for the protective garb that medical staff must now wear while taking the throat and nasal swabs for the tests.
Both Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Peconic Bay Medical Center said through spokespeople this week that they currently have adequate stores of protective garb for all their staff and operations.
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