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West Virginia hospitals prep for virus surge

One of the 18 intensive care unit rooms a WVU Medicine Camden Clark is shown. (Photo provided by WVU Medicine Camden Clark)

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia’s hospitals are preparing for a surge in COVID-19 cases that could come in two to three weeks.

“We’re really in the calm-before-the-storm scenario right now,” said Joe Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association. “We’re working with our members to try to figure out what the needs would be during a surge.”

So far, there have been a combined 19 positive cases in Jackson, Pleasants, Roane, Wetzel, Wirt and Wood counties, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The most — 11 — are in Jackson County.

The only coronavirus-related death reported in the region so far was in Athens County, Ohio. A total of six positive cases have been recorded in Athens and Washington counties.

But the numbers are expected to rise, with President Donald Trump recently saying 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die despite social distancing and other efforts to prevent the virus’ spread.

“Because we are social distancing, these are the projections,” said Dr. Kathryn Moffett, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with WVU Medicine, who works with hospitals in that system around the state, including Camden Clark Medical Center in Parkersburg. “It could be way worse.

“The social distancing is working. People need to do their part,” she said.

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 completely is all but impossible, but slowing it — “flattening the curve” is the popular phrase — could prevent hospitals from being inundated and having resources like rooms, ventilators and staff exhausted, said Carrie Brainard, public information officer for the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department.

“The concern with the limit of beds is if we start seeing the number of cases per capita that New York has, we will be overwhelmed and people may not get the critical care that is needed,” she said. “That is why the six-foot physical distancing and the stay-at-home declaration is so important.

“Now is not the time to go shopping for flowers and getting together for cookouts,” Brainard said. “Stay at home, go out only if necessary, use drive-thru or curbside options whenever possible.”

Not everyone infected with COVID-19 has to go to the hospital. Most people experience mild to moderate symptoms; some don’t have any.

“If someone is ill but not requiring oxygen … they’re able to stay hydrated, keep drinking fluids, they’re able to be at home,” Moffett said.

For some, particularly older adults and those with existing health conditions, it can lead to a more severe illness and even death. Shortness of breath is a sign that, at the very least, the individual needs evaluated, possibly via telemedicine or perhaps in person, Moffett said.

“If you need oxygen, then you need to be admitted,” she said. “If they’re rapidly worsening and they need to be monitored, then they need to be in intensive care.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission recently used data compiled by the technology and geographic information system company ESRI, Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Census Bureau to produce interactive maps tracking how the virus spreads through the 13-state Appalachian region and planning reports for each individual county.

The 11 West Virginia counties (Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Jackson, Pleasants, Roane, Ritchie, Tyler, Wetzel, Wirt and Wood) and six Ohio counties (Washington, Athens, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan and Noble) in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel/Marietta Times circulation area have a combined population of 191,606.

The ARC data breaks down at-risk groups in each county, including people age 65 and older and people with disabilities. Those numbers total 37,270 and 26,697, respectively, in that 17-county area.

It also classifies as at-risk households with no vehicle, a total of 11,824 in the area.

The data shows there are 930 licensed hospital beds in those counties, 34 of them intensive care beds. The only counties in the circulation area with ICU beds are Wood County with 18, Washington County with 11 and Wetzel County with five.

Camden Clark has the 18 ICU beds in Wood County. That total does not include eight beds in the CVICU, a unit focused on cardiovascular patients.

Letnaunchyn said the characteristics that define an ICU bed include access to equipment like ventilators, having one patient per room and a narrow nurse-to-patient ratio.

“Those rooms are equipped very specifically for treating those types of patients,” he said.

But an increase in patients beyond the number of licensed beds doesn’t mean a patient can’t receive intensive care.

“When a surge hits and you have patients that need intensive care services and those beds are full, then you start converting beds,” Letnaunchyn said. “It’s not the ideal situation, but when you have a surge, you do what you have to do.”

Key to providing that care is equipment. The association is gathering information about the resources and supplies available to hospitals in the state. At the most recent count, there are a little more than 700 ventilators in West Virginia hospitals, Letnaunchyn said.

Moffett said WVU Medicine has a COVID Command Center, through which officials are in constant communication to monitor resources like ventilators and personal protective equipment, as well as capacity. The state’s hospitals will work together to make sure patients are treated, regardless of geography, she said.

“Someone in a rural area doesn’t have a hospital. So you get them here (Morgantown),” she said. “Or you get them to CAMC, or you get them to Camden Clark.”

In New York, the current epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States, spaces like the Javits Convention Center have been converted into makeshift hospitals and a Navy hospital ship has docked to increase medical capacity.

Letnaunchyn said discussions are going on between the National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the DHHR to determine where West Virginia could add capacity.

“They’ve identified probably three or four facilities that they’re looking at now,” he said, adding they would likely be divided regionally throughout the state.

It has not been determined whether the additional facilities would treat COVID-19 patients or handle other care while the coronavirus patients are treated at existing hospitals.

Janelle Patterson contributed to this article.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

***

By the Numbers

In the surrounding 11 West Virginia and six Ohio counties, 80,926 people are age 65 or older.

West Virginia (Wood, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler, Wetzel and Wirt counties)

* Total population: 203,759

* 65 years old or older: 43,656

* Individuals with disabilities: 28,260

* Licensed hospital beds: 531

* Intensive Care Unit beds: 23

Ohio (Washington, Athens, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan and Noble counties)

* Total population: 191,606

* 65 years old or older: 37,270

* Individuals with disabilities: 26,697

* Licensed hospital beds: 399

* Intensive Care Unit beds: 11

Source: Appalachian Regional Commission

***

WEST VIRGINIA

WOOD COUNTY

* Population: 85,692

* 65 and older: 18,308

* People with disabilities: 12,255

* Licensed hospital beds: 313

* ICU beds: 18

CALHOUN COUNTY

* Population: 7,903

* 65 and older: 1,806

* People with disabilities: 1,322

* Licensed hospital beds: 42

* ICU beds: 0

DODDRIDGE COUNTY

* Population: 8,576

* 65 and older: 1,691

* People with disabilities: 1,056

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* ICU beds: 0

GILMER COUNTY

* Population: 8,473

* 65 and older: 1,439

* People with disabilities: 943

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* ICU beds: 0

JACKSON COUNTY

* Population: 29,634

* 65 and older: 6,206

* People with disabilities: 3,524

* Licensed hospital beds: 46

* ICU beds: 0

PLEASANTS COUNTY

* Population: 7,809

* 65 and older: 1,589

* People with disabilities: 1,081

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* ICU beds: 0

RITCHIE COUNTY

* Population: 10,066

* 65 and older: 2,242

* People with disabilities: 1,394

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* ICU beds: 0

ROANE COUNTY

* Population: 14,644

* 65 and older: 3,247

* People with disabilities: 2,588

* Licensed hospital beds: 60

* ICU beds: 0

TYLER COUNTY

* Population: 9,154

* 65 and older: 2,135

* People with disabilities: 1,002

* Licensed hospital beds: 12

* ICU beds: 0

WETZEL COUNTY

* Population: 16,157

* 65 and older: 3,789

* People with disabilities: 1,935

* Licensed hospital beds: 58

* ICU beds: 5

WIRT COUNTY

* Population: 5,651

* 65 and older: 1,204

* People with disabilities: 1,160

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* ICU beds: 0

***

OHIO

WASHINGTON COUNTY

* Population: 61,071

* 65 and older: 13,498

* People with disabilities: 9,141

* Licensed hospital beds: 243

* ICU beds: 11

ATHENS COUNTY

* Population: 67,164

* 65 and older: 8,868

* People with disabilities: 7,080

* Licensed hospital beds: 156

* ICU beds: 0

MEIGS COUNTY

* Population: 18,845

* 65 and older: 4,675

* People with disabilities: 3,883

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* ICU beds: 0

MONROE COUNTY

* Population: 14,519

* 65 and older: 3,392

* People with disabilities: 2,402

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* Intensive Care Unit beds: 0

MORGAN COUNTY

* Population: 15,189

* 65 and older: 3,292

* People with disabilities: 2,528

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* Intensive Care Unit beds: 0

NOBLE COUNTY

* Population: 14,818

* 65 and older: 3,545

* People with disabilities: 1,663

* Licensed hospital beds: 0

* Intensive Care Unit beds: 0

* Source: Appalachian Regional Commission

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