Fresno County officials brace for surge in COVID-19 patients in area hospitals

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County officials held a press conference on Wednesday to discuss a likely impending surge in coronavirus cases.

The county's hospitals are expecting and preparing for a sharp increase in the number of patients infected with COVID-19 in the coming weeks.

Last week, state hospital data showed the number of coronavirus patients in the county's hospitals was up 66% in the last two weeks.

It was the highest hospital population the county has seen during the pandemic.

The drastic rise is likely to continue, said Dr. Rais Vohra with the county's health department during Wednesday's press conference.

Dr. Vohra stressed the importance of the county's residents to keep using face masks, maintain a 6-feet distance from others, and minimize social interactions.

He said officials are anticipating that the county's ICUs may become burdened as well, describing this as a 'critical time' for the county.

The number of ICU beds in use has already seen a spike.

"Several weeks ago, they were averaging 20 patients in the ICU, but now they're surpassing 40, so that is a concern," Fresno County Supervisor Nathan Magsig told Action News earlier in the day.

On Wednesday, Governor Newsom outlined plans to maximize existing space in hospitals, which is already being done in Fresno County.

RELATED: California is preparing for another surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, Newsom says
Magsig said Fresno County is working closely with health officials on an ever-evolving plan of action to ensure anyone who needs a hospital bed gets one.

He said the county does not yet need to activate their alternative care site at the Exhibit Hall in downtown Fresno but is exploring how and when to set those contingency beds.

"We still have capability and capacity at our hospitals, but we don't want to push the limit."

Valley Children's Hospital said they've begun accepting pediatric patients from other hospitals, freeing up those beds.

Though the number of patients is low, they say they are ready and able to take more, if needed.

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To address hospital impacts, Fresno County has requested 100 traveling nurses that'll be dispersed throughout the entire healthcare system in Fresno County.

Dr. Eugene Egerton with St. Agnes Medical Center told Action News there isn't a concern yet for beds at the northeast Fresno hospital.

"We are licensed for 436 beds. We could surge to more than that if we needed to, and we are very aggressive about making the space necessary within the hospital to take care of our COVID patients," he said.

Another resource that could be used is the Porterville development center, one of several state alternative care sites.

The facility takes COVID-19 patients from seven Central Valley counties.

As of Wednesday evening, 18 of the 50 beds are filled.

But Dr. Vohra said it's not just beds that are a concern.

Right now, the strain on the hospital system is staffing.

"The hospitals are telling us that they are really running short on the number of people they can actually bring back to work just because a number of them have been asked to quarantine.... Doctors and nurses at many of our hospitals are becoming COVID positive," he said.

To address hospital impacts, Fresno County has requested 100 traveling nurses that'll be dispersed throughout the entire healthcare system in Fresno County.

They're expected to be here within the next two weeks.

During Wednesday's press conference, county health officials also said they had decided to cut back on reporting cases.

Starting next week, they will only update the number of cases twice per week - rather than daily - to allow them to put out more accurate numbers and analyze trends.

Also, a survey will soon be available by email to gather information from patients immediately after positive results.
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