In the three weeks since Pennsylvania’s first social distancing measures took effect, all schools and most businesses have closed indefinitely, the state’s nearly 13 million residents have been ordered to stay home, and at least 8,400 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Four weeks into the region’s crisis, government data and interviews indicate that
And with the pandemic’s likely peak weeks away, the worst is yet to come. With no treatment and no vaccine -- and just days to prepare -- governmental and health officials are trying to amass the things they believe will give them a shot at slowing the coronavirus’ grim toll: hospital beds to treat patients, ventilators to keep them breathing, and masks and supplies to protect the workers on the front lines.
“It’s unreal. It’s like nothing we have ever seen before,” said
Counting the beds
The state has already allowed hospitals to add beds without needing the usual approval, and hospitals have begun adding beds to unused spaces.
“If we do all of those steps, we think it’s unlikely we’ll need more than that, but we’re going to watch this closely,” said the city’s health commissioner,
Hospitals in the city and outside it have been reassigning staff, allocating equipment, and lining up volunteers.
“The [work] we’ve done … even in advance … of what happened in
But 2,300 beds should be added to the state’s capacity in the coming weeks as health officials reopen at least two hospitals and multiple hospital wings that were previously closed. Four temporary hospitals -- together providing up to 1,000 beds -- are also on their way from the
Millions of protective items, but not enough
Just as critical as finding spots for the infected is preventing doctors, medical personnel, and first responders from joining their ranks. Specialized masks, gloves, gowns, and other equipment enable responders to care for patients without contracting the highly contagious virus.
It remains unclear how many beds and masks are still needed statewide or exactly where, because health officials do not have “granular” data by region, state Health Secretary
As of Thursday,
More N95 masks are on the way, but the amount will still leave the state with 260,000 fewer than it requested. By contrast,
But even they are reusing masks and relying on donations. Nurses in
Because the amount of PPE supplies varies by facility and changes rapidly, the Hospital and
There is “a direct link between everyone staying home and our health-care system’s ability to handle a surge,” she said.
The city also has tried to get supplies on its own, agreeing to spend
“It is unfortunate that municipalities are being forced to try and find this PPE on [their] own,” he said. “We don’t have enough resources.”
City officials are also concerned about the number of ventilators that might be needed, Farley said, and believe there are not enough virus tests available.
And ventilators -- which are essential in keeping critically ill patients alive -- remain a major concern nationwide. Murphy tweeted this past week that “ventilators are our #1 need right now.”
An analysis by public health experts at
“The hope is you’d get to a point where this is just over-preparation or over-training and we don’t have to reach a point where we truly need to ration scarce resources,” said
Trying to predict the unknown
Predicting when the virus will peak is “not simple,” said Levine, the state health secretary. Researchers at the
“If the wind changes direction or the temperature changes even a few degrees, it can make a difference between two feet of snow or some light flurries,” she said.
Similarly, Philadelphia’s health commissioner said varying models show different peaks for the city. He said it is still possible that the city could avoid its hospitals being overrun and short of medical equipment.
“We certainly want to flatten the curve [of rising infections] as much as we can, and it’s absolutely still possible that we can do that to the point where every resource is available to everyone,” Farley said.
Displaying his first cautious optimism in weeks, Wolf said his stay-at-home order, which he expanded to the entire state Wednesday, has already “done good things” to slow the virus’ spread. Some models, he said, show the state will be overwhelmed, but others suggest a much higher death toll can be avoided if people continue social distancing.
“This is no time to relax,” Montgomery County Commissioners Chair
Even amid some hopeful points in recent days, leaders in recent days cautioned that restrictions must stay in place at least until
"This is what we do know,” said Levine. “If we do not all stay home, then we will see the worst-case scenarios.”
(c)2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.inquirer.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.