NEW YORK (WWNY) - As coronavirus cases continue to surge and officials brace for a post-holiday spike, the state has developed a series of strategies to deal with the expected rise in cases.
And the most detailed of those strategies-- and the most urgent -- involves hospitals.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference Monday that the holiday surge will probably last through mid-January and could overtax hospitals and health care workers.
“I think we’re going to be fine, here, on all of this,” he said, “but we have our work cut out for us.”
He said the crisis can be managed “by raising the pool of staff as much as you can, balancing the load across the state, and then doing everything you can to reduce the spread.”
Hospital capacity, the governor said, “has always been my nightmare.”
Early in the pandemic, he said, hospitals upstate were able to send resources downstate because the spread wasn’t as bad upstate.
Now, the governor says, the virus has spread across the state, so that’s less of an option.
Cuomo said the state will start recruiting retired health care workers now. “I am very concerned about staff shortage,” he said.
Here are other parts of the hospital plan:
- As of Friday, there will be no elective surgeries in Erie County, where cases have surged the most in the state.
- Individual hospital networks will need a plan to distribute patients and resources among all their member hospitals.
- Hospitals will need to have a plan to increase their capacities by 50 percent and develop a field hospital plan, including how to staff their field hospitals.
- Health care facilities have to prepare for a statewide “surge and flex” to shift resources from one part of the state to another as much as possible.
- Hospitals will also need to confirm their PPE stockpiles.
A spokeswoman for Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown said the hospital already has a plan to increase capacity, prepared at the state’s request last spring.
“So for Samaritan, the surge plan, we had to surge to 50 percent capacity and 100 percent capacity. Both of those plans have actually been developed,” said Leslie DiStefano.
The CEO of Carthage Area Hospital and Claxton-Hepburn Hospital in Ogdensburg said like Samaritan, they have plans ready to go.
Richard Duvall has two worries: staff fatigue after months of dealing with COVID, and what happens if Governor Cuomo shuts down most hospital procedures again, as he did last spring.
“If we go into some form of a mass shutdown, without further financial support from either the state or federal government, that could be devastating for regional hospitals, for sure,” Duvall said.
“Most of the north country hospitals are operating on what I would call shoestring budgets, especially since the pandemic,” he said.
“Because we did shut down once already. So because of that, as you can imagine, a lot of our volume and visits are way down below budgeted numbers.”
The rest of the five strategies Cuomo outlined involve trying to control the spread of the disease.
The second strategy will increase testing and make sure tests are distributing tests fairly among groups such as health care workers, nursing home patients and staff, schools, and essential workers.
The third strategy is to keep schools open and test weekly. The frequency of testing depends on infections rates for the areas the schools are in.
“We believe in keeping, especially k through 8, open,” Cuomo said.
“The schools are safer than the surrounding community and children get an education and parents can work etcetera
The fourth strategy is educating people about the dangers of small, in-home gatherings, which are the biggest drivers of infection surges across the country.
“Look, the truth is government doesn’t have an ability to monitor it,” Cuomo said.
“But you want to know what is smart, what is reasonable, what is protective of other people and yourself? This is where the spread is coming from.”
The fifth strategy is developing a plan for distributing a vaccine when it’s available. The governor said distribution could start as early as December to those most at risk, but the vaccine won’t be readily available until spring or summer.