Hospitalizations at highest point in region

A continuing surge in COVID-19 cases has the county’s major health-care facilities taking notice and calling on residents to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. With hospitalization numbers at 13, according to the Chautauqua County Health Department through Monday, no location is currently overburdened by COVID cases.

“However,” warned Lisa Barone, director of infection prevention at Brooks-TLC Hospital System in Dunkirk, “that could change at any time.”

Barone’s statements issued in a press release could not be more prophetic. The Daily Hospitalization rate, as noted by the state on Monday, reached the highest number for Western New York since the beginning of pandemic as 316 were reported in care with 61 in intensive care.

Brooks’ officials are asking the public to prepare for a possible color zone designation if the positivity rate does increase, particularly with the pending arrival of flu season.

As parts of adjacent Erie County have been designated yellow or orange zones based on a seven-day rolling average of positive COVID-19 cases, hospitals in those areas have adopted new visitation policies restricting all visitors.

State figures from Monday indicated 72% of the total hospital beds as being used in the region with 46% occupied in intensive care.

Currently, Brooks-TLC is maintaining a restricted visitation policy put in place in September, which allows for one visitor per inpatient. But, Barone cautions those visiting loved ones to remain vigilant about the hospital’s universal masking policy, which requires visitors to be masked at all times, even in patient rooms. “We don’t want to ask a loved one — not following masking policies — to leave the hospital, but we would have to in order to protect those in our care,” she said.

Top medical officials with UPMC also discussed preparedness measures earlier this month as numbers increased in New York state and Pennsylvania. The concerns included large gatherings around Thanksgiving that could lead to a spike in cases afterward. “We are asking everybody to change their behavior over the holiday season,” said Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz, UPMC ICU service center chief medical officer. “It is important that all of us modify how we celebrate now so we can be together with our extended families in the future.”

During a briefing Nov. 12, UPMC doctors said the increase in new cases wasn’t surprising, citing “COVID fatigue” and cooler weather forcing more people indoors.

“As we expected, and our public health colleagues expected, cases of COVID-19 increased across the nation and across the communities we serve over the past month,” said Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director and chairman of the department of emergency medicine. “Anyone can contract the virus.”

Nonetheless, UPMC — with a hospital located in Jamestown — said its systems were prepared to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients in the winter.

Westfield Memorial Hospital, which is under the Allegheny Health Network umbrella, issued a statement from its nursing leadership last week reminder residents in both states to consider others while going about their daily activities. “COVID-19 is in our communities, touching us all in one way or another, no matter where we live or who we are,” said the letter signed by Claire M. Zangerle, DNP, RN, chief nurse executive at Allegheny Health Network and five others. “And as we move into the winter months, we are very concerned about the accelerated spread of infectious disease, be it the coronavirus or the flu.

“We have seen the faces of COVID-19 firsthand and the toll it takes on all frontline healthcare providers – nurses, physicians, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, and many others every day. We also see the effect it has on patients and families suffering from the virus and the potential long-term health challenges it may pose.”

With the holiday season here, officials are asking the community to follow the guidelines set forth by the county Health Department and state to minimize risk and a potential surge of patients.

“We are all in this together and we must take this seriously,” said Ken Morris, Brooks-TLC vice president of hospital operations. “Everyone needs to take the necessary precautions. Our staff and our physicians make every effort to keep our patients and themselves safe. It’s important that visitors follow the facility policies to prevent unnecessary exposure to staff and patients. We are constantly monitoring our operations for potential risk. Even though Brooks-TLC is prepared for a surge in patients, the visitor policy may be altered when needed.”

City editor Eric Tichy contributed to this report.


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