The first signs of the coronavirus’ strain on the health care system in Carroll County appeared Tuesday morning, with one unit at Carroll Hospital reaching its current capacity with patients.
“While our census changes daily, at this time our critical care unit is full, however, our intermediate care unit, medical/ surgical units and emergency department are not full,” Selena Mowery, hospital director of marketing and public relations, wrote in an email. The patients in the critical care unit are a mix of those with COVID-19 — the name for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus — and patients with other critical conditions, she said.
The hospital’s critical care unit is a 12-bed — in private rooms — combination Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Coronary Care Unit (CCU) and Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU), according to the hospital website, where the most ill patients are monitored after triage and treatment in the emergency department, the emergency department itself consisting of 42 private rooms.
The idea behind social distancing and shelter in place directives during the coronavirus pandemic has been to “flatten the curve,” or to slow the spread of the virus so as to limit the number of people getting sick at once — and avoid overwhelming the health care system.
The intermediate care unit is a step down from critical care, according to Mowery, and has a 24-bed capacity, according to the hospital website.
“We can and do add beds if needed to units with capacity,” she wrote.
Mowery’s statement was in part a clarification of comments made by County Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, at the Tuesday morning budget session, held with all five commissioners speaking remotely via online streaming.
In his remarks, Wantz noted that Carroll County had 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but that, "This does not include the Pleasant View nursing facility where there are 77 positive cases and about 16 to 20 folks who have been hospitalized.
“Another 17 were taken out of that facility and those folks were taken elsewhere, they were not taken to Carroll Hospital as Carroll Hospital center is completely full,” Wantz continued. “They are today looking at gearing up the [hospital’s] Shauck Auditorium for extra beds.”
Mowery said the decision to take additional COVID-19 patients to hospitals other than Carroll Hospital was not due to reaching the limits of its capacity — that has not happened, she said.
“Carroll Hospital is caring for 12 patients and one employee from Pleasant View Nursing Home, so when additional patients needed to be hospitalized from there the state made the smart decision to disperse the admissions instead of taxing one or two medical centers,” she wrote.
As for the possible use of Shauck Auditorium, that is not an active initiative, Mowery said in a phone interview, though it is something they are beginning to discuss in case it is necessary.
“We always have an emergency plan in place, but we keep adjusting it as this evolves. That would be our next step if we need to use it and we are mapping it out,” she said. “That’s part of our surge capacity.”
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The county is also beginning to plan to provide surge capacity in case the number of cases in Carroll County increases rapidly, Wantz said in his remarks during the meeting, suggesting the use of facilities at Carroll County Agriculture Center.
“I have instructed emergency management and associated staff to put a request in to the state and federal government to get the Army Corps of Engineers here to set up the Shipley Arena as a surge bed facility,” he said. “It is time to move on that. I think if we get ahead of the game and get on that list we can get some cooperation there.”
The Corps of Engineers is currently assessing 341 facilities across the U.S. to possibly convert into temporary emergency hospitals, according to Reuters.
As of the afternoon of March 31, the novel coronavirus had resulted in more than 3,400 deaths in the United States out of more than 177,000 people who have tested positive for the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. County officials have confirmed a total of 94 people have the coronavirus in Carroll County and five have died.
Anyone who thinks they or a family member might be showing coronavirus symptoms can call the Carroll County Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline, which is available 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. seven days a week at 410-876-4848, or contact their doctor. After hours, callers may leave a message or call 211. People with emergencies should continue to call 911.