St. Lawrence hospitals gear up for COVID fight

Updated: Dec. 4, 2020 at 3:21 PM EST
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CANTON, N.Y. (WWNY) - St. Lawrence Health System - which operates the Canton-Potsdam, Massena and Gouverneur hospitals - is gearing up for more COVID testing.

The hospital group’s CEO, David Acker, said Friday the group is adding another three testing machines to the three it already has, with another six coming on line by the end of the year.

The machines, made by Rheonix Inc., an Ithaca NY-based company, let the hospital group do PCR tests, the best of the available COVID tests, and get results quickly.

“We will have the capacity within the three hospitals to do in-house testing of about a thousand a day,” Acker told 7 News.

“That’s a tremendous amount, but it’s going to be needed. It’s going to be needed.”

Acker’s comments came at the end of a week in which St. Lawrence County exceeded a thousand total COVID cases, more than 300 active cases, and added as many as 83 cases in a single day.

“This is the worst outbreak we’ve seen in this county and I think it’s not unlikely we’re gonna continue to see this worsen for a period of time,” Acker said.

“It’s incredibly serious.”

The hospital group is also preparing for the first shipments of COVID vaccine. One of the vaccines has to be stored at temperatures as cold as winter in Antarctica. St. Lawrence Health System already has one “super freezer,” which can store more than 210,000 doses of the vaccine, and has ordered a second.

Acker said a lot of people will need shots. He anticipates nursing home residents and workers will get the first vaccines, which will be administered by commercial drug store chains like Walgreens and CVS.

As for vaccines and St. Lawrence Health System: “We have roughly 2,000 employees. About 1,300 of those would be considered front line health care workers. We also have a number of independent practices which we have reached out to, which we intend to support as well,” he said.

Acker said the number of COVID patients at Canton-Potsdam Hospital has not been consistent with St. Lawrence County’s overall infection numbers. About a week and a half ago, before the latest spike, Canton-Potsdam had 12 patients. Friday, only four patients were being treated for COVID.

Gouvernor Cuomo has directed hospital groups to spread out COVID patients among the group’s hospitals, so no one hospital is over-burdened.

“I’d like to think we’re not gonna have to resort to sending COVID patients to Massena or Gouverneur, but I could see us sending patients who are not COVID patients to those two facilities, if and when we start to overwhelm our capacity,” Acker said.

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