South Valley hospitals, already strained, prepare for winter surge

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Tulare County is seeing its highest number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients since early August.

On Monday, Visalia's Kaweah Delta Medical Center was caring for 79 coronavirus patients -- 33 more than the previous Monday.

Staff members at Sierra View Medical Center are treating nearly 30 patients infected with the disease.

"Our ICU volume for COVID patients has more than tripled," said SVMC Chief Nurse Executive Dr. Jeffery Hudson-Covolo. "We were in the low one or two patients at a time. Now we're up to six, so this is increasing as well."

The numbers are expected to climb, as hospital officials know they still haven't seen the impacts from Thanksgiving gatherings.

"We believe and we're predicting that we are going to probably hit a surge level that we've not seen before," Hudson-Covolo said. "It will really press our organization to be able to care for about the 115,000 lives we're responsible for here in the Porterville area."

Several months ago, the hospital converted a conference room to address the summer surge.

That space hasn't been used in months, but may be needed again.

"And if we continue down this pathway, we'll be back to opening that unit up again to help decompress the emergency room," Dr. Hudson-Covolo said. "We use it as a staging area to put admitted patients in while they're waiting for a bed upstairs."

The hospital may also have the ability to send COVID patients to the Porterville Developmental Center, one of 11 state alternative care sites that aren't currently in use but could soon be reactivated.

At this point, it's unclear if Tulare County hospitals will receive any staffing assistance from state or federal agencies.

Dozens of hospital employees in the area have been infected with or exposed to COVID-19.

"We have to understand that this is not just California with these increase in surges and these overrun hospitals," said Tulare County HHSA Spokesperson Carrie Monteiro. "This is across the nation. So a lot of those military strike teams that we utilized in the summer surge are very strapped and may not be available for us this time around."

Monteiro says the first group to get the COVID-19 vaccine will be healthcare workers, which will hopefully quell any future staffing shortages.

The public health branch has bought some freezers to store the vaccine when it arrives, and they also say the state should be putting another freezer in Tulare County that will serve the region.
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