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COVID-19: Field hospital plans should be drawn up

Earlier this year, hospitals in a few larger cities were flooded with COVID-19 patients. Health care professionals were coming down with the disease. Sick people were being treated in tents. But that was elsewhere, right? Yes, more than 200,000 have died across the country … but the numbers here in the Mid-Ohio Valley have been relatively mild.

It seems unlikely, then that it would come to the need for hospital tents in West Virginia — but it may not be beyond the realm of possibility.

During his daily press conference Friday, Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials discussed challenges some hospitals are facing in regard to the coronavirus.

State Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch noted Charleston Area Medical Center had requested two “field hospitals” be set up in that city to keep COVID-19 sufferers separated from other hospital patients.

“We really believe at this point that a field hospital is not necessary,” Crouch told reporters. But, he added, “We do have outbreaks in hospitals and we have outbreaks at CAMC right now.”

By Friday, CAMC was handling an average daily count of 60-70 coronavirus patients. That is a heavy load for any hospital — and more beds than some smaller facilities have.

Justice agreed with Crouch that there is no need yet for the state to provide field hospitals. Perhaps not, though one can understand CAMC officials’ concern.

COVID-19 has become a tidal wave in our state, however. On Friday, the DHHR reported there were 3,375 active cases of the disease. Two hundred fifty-three new cases had been reported in the previous 24 hours. Then another 13 people died from the virus over the weekend.

But as of Friday, the DHHR also reported that just 175 COVID-19 patients had required hospitalization throughout the state. As long as the number does not increase significantly, hospitals should be able to deal with the load.

We can’t wait until a surge of COVID-19 patients overwhelms a hospital, as occurred in New York City. State officials — specifically Gen. James Hoyer, who commands the West Virginia National Guard — should have contingency plans in place.

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