‘Like nothing I’ve ever seen’ — NJ hospital is ground zero for COVID-19
TEANECK — A hospital that has been at the center of the COVID-19 outbreak response in New Jersey in recent weeks has been making do with ingenuity and improvisation, amid concerns that a further spike in cases could force more difficult choices.
Teaneck's Holy Name Medical Center is in Bergen County, which has recorded more than 1,500 cases, nearly twice as many as any of the state's other 20 counties. As of Friday, 108 patients were hospitalized with the virus and 13 had died, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
The town of approximately 41,000 people asked residents to self-quarantine earlier this month, about a week before Gov. Phil Murphy announced restrictions on gatherings and ordered non-essential businesses closed.
The hospital has one 18-bed intensive care unit and currently has more than 30 patients on ventilators who require intensive care, Dr. Adam Jarrett, the hospital's chief medical officer, told The Associated Press. That has forced the hospital to convert other sections of the facility into auxiliary ICUs, including two additional spaces that were expected to be available in the next few days. Jarrett said the hospital is even considering converting conference room space if necessary.
“It's not so much that we’ve had surges; we've had a constant flow of patients that come in pretty sick and needing to be admitted, and a large percentage go from sick but stable to being critically ill and requiring ventilators,” he said. “It's like nothing I’ve ever seen, and I've been doing this for 30 years.”
The hospital has been able to maintain a supply of ventilators by buying or renting them or repurposing other machines such as anesthesia machines, Jarrett said. But that may not be sustainable in the long term. The state has requested more than 2,000 ventilators from the federal government's stockpile and is awaiting word.
“We've been very resourceful, but at some point the resourcefulness is not going to be able to handle the volume,” Jarrett said. The hospital has discussed putting more than one patient on a ventilator if there is a spike, a measure Jarrett said would be “inconceivable” in normal times.
Jarrett added that hospital CEO Michael Maron, who the hospital announced on March 20 had tested positive for COVID-19, was “doing great” and could return to work as soon as Monday.
Death toll climbs
The death toll in New Jersey from COVID-19 rose to 108, an increase of 27, through Friday afternoon, Gov. Phil Murphy said. The number of cases jumped to nearly 9,000, up from about 7,000 on Thursday.
Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said many of the positive tests are from people who were tested a week earlier, and may not yet indicate any effect from the stricter rules announced last weekend. the rules restricted social interactions and the closing of non-essential businesses.
Murphy was scheduled to hold another briefing at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Drive-thru testing centers in Bergen and Monmouth counties were open Saturday solely for first responders and health care workers who were showing symptoms. Beginning Sunday, the centers — at Bergen County College in Paramus and the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel — will open on alternate days and provide up to 500 tests each day, roughly double what they each have been offering daily until now.
Murphy said the modification was made to ease pressure on staffing and resources.
A new drive-thru testing site will open on Monday at the County College of Morris in Randolph, by appointment for residents who have a referral from a health care provider.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
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