As COVID-19 Illness Surges, PA's Largest Medical System Says It's Prepared

Nov 11, 2020

Hospitals around the county are getting slammed with surges of COVID-19 patients.

The situation is not as dire in Pennsylvania, but as the state continues to see record-breaking coronavirus case numbers on a near daily basis, that could change.

“We are at a critical point...We all need to take steps to prevent the spread of this virus and if we don’t, we put ourselves, our families, and our communities and our health systems at risk," said state health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, at a news conference this week. 

UPMC, Pennsylvania’s largest medical system, says it has been preparing for months to meet the demands of a fall surge. Researchers have warned since the spring that COVID-19 illness would likely spike as the weather cooled.

“Clearly, the increased positive rates are concerning to us. We hope that rise will plateau, but we are prepared that it won’t,” said UPMC’s Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz during a Wednesday press conference. “We have plans that can be implemented and modified as the situation changes.”

Sackrowitz, who is the chief medical officer of UPMC’s intensive care unit service center, says a “central capacity management team” communicates with system's 40 hospitals to make sure each facility has the resources to meet demands. 

“These plans are detailed and include how we would most effectively distribute our resources, our physical space, our equipment, and our teams, our doctors, our nurses, our respiratory therapists,” she said.

UPMC says its hospitals in and around both Altoona and western Maryland are seeing particularly high levels of COVID-19 illness. Sackrowitz says people have been transferred from hospitals that are contending with large patient volumes to other facilities. 

State data show that 2,080 people are hospitalizaed in Pennsylvania with COVID-19, 193 of whom are on ventilators. Less than 18 percent of intensive care unit beds and 16 percent of regular hospital beds are vacant.