Sonoma County hospitals avoid autumn surge of coronavirus patients
As coronavirus infections keep climbing around the state, Sonoma County hospitals are taking steps to ensure they have sufficient drug treatments, staffing and medical supplies to deal with a potential surge of patients sick with the infectious disease over the winter.
With the arrival of colder weather and peak flu season, medical professionals are hoping to somehow blunt the highly contagious virus from causing what some fear could be a perfect storm that could overrun local hospitals.
Sonoma County has averted an autumn spike in new COVID-19 cases that has medical centers in Southern California, midwestern, southwestern and southeastern states running out of hospital beds. However, local public health officials and physicians warned that throughout the pandemic, the county’s coronavirus trends have lagged the rest of the state and country by more than a month.
“We’re really preparing for four weeks out to see what happens around Christmastime,” said Dr. Chad Krilich, chief medical officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, which runs the county’s largest medical center Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley Hospital. By the end of December, St. Joseph Health will add Healdsburg District Hospital, after an affiliate buys it.
County hospitals are now familiar with the drill of preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients, because they went through it last spring. A big focus then among medical teams and supportive county public health officials was ensuring there were enough beds to treat sick patients.
But Krilich said bed availability is not the key issue in preparation this time around. A bigger priority now, he said, is making sure there are adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, enough staffing, lab testing capacity and coronavirus treatments such as remdesivir, convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibody therapies.
“It’s making sure we have a good supply chain for those things, making sure we have good staffing in place,” the doctor said, noting there are enough beds.
Senior care home indicator
Hospitalizations in Sonoma County related to the virus have remained relatively steady since mid-October, hovering between 20 and 35 patients a day, according to California Department of Public Health data. During that time, local hospitals have treated fewer than 10 COVID-19 patients a day in intensive-care units.
During the past two weeks, hospital admissions of infected area residents have increased from 17 on Nov. 16 to 30 on Nov. 26. That’s still half of the number in the summer, when the local hospitalizations connected with the contagion reached 60 on July 28.
On Friday, at St. Joseph Health’s hospitals there were eight COVID-19 patients being treated at Memorial and three at Petaluma Valley, Krilich said. None of those patients were in intensive care. The county’s other two major hospitals, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional and Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center, declined to provide specific tallies of coronavirus patients admitted.
Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, confirmed local hospitalization rates of virus patients have increased slightly, but not nearly as much as they have in other parts of California the past few weeks. What’s more, Mase said new local COVID-19 cases recently have remained stable, even as infections have sharply increased in other Bay Area counties.
The local spike in hospitalizations over the summer was largely driven by coronavirus outbreaks in senior care homes, including skilled nursing centers and residential care sites for the elderly. Fortunately, such outbreaks, especially at skilled nursing homes, have significantly declined in recent months.
“Hospitalizations would really be driven up, if we saw more cases in our vulnerable populations, skilled nursing facilities and residential care facilities for the elderly,” said Mase, noting that virus transmission levels at nursing homes has been a better indicator of the hospitalization trend than new daily infections. “It was at the time when we were having outbreaks in those congregate care settings that we had the biggest increases in hospitalizations and ICU admissions.”
Modifying hospital treatment
Meanwhile, at Sutter regional hospital, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has been “fairly consistent” the past few months, said Dr. Bill Carroll, the hospital’s chief medical executive. The numbers are much less than they were in the summer, Carroll said.
What has increased, he said, is the volume of people testing positive for the virus when visiting the hospital’s emergency room and other departments.