Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday said he would issue an executive order to all hospitals requiring them to postpone elective surgeries to free up space for anticipated covid-19 patients, warning that the state will require more hospital beds, protective equipment and medical workers as the pandemic leads to new infections and claims more lives in the coming weeks.
The governor pressed the need for more resources to cope with an expected surge in patients, saying his staff has been scouting locations around the state, in concert with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to find sites where temporary hospitals can be built.
Northam (D) said the state will also make better use of its Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, which has 8,000 volunteer health-care providers. He said 1,500 have volunteered just in the past month.
“We … need all hands on deck for our staff at our medical facilities,” Northam said.
State officials are exploring how to rework licensing procedures to certify more medical professionals who can help, Northam said, and may also try to enlist medical students.
The governor, a pediatrician, explained why so many medical workers and so much personal protective gear will be needed to treat covid-19 patients, describing a typical scene in an intensive care unit. As many as 10 different doctors and other experts may attend a single patient, he said. Each doctor needs a new mask, gown and gloves every time they check on the patient.
In one 24-hour period, he said, that means the doctors need 240 pieces of personal protective gear per patient. If there are 40 patients in intensive care, that quickly gets to 10,000 pieces of personal protective equipment per day per hospital.
That’s not counting the police, fire and emergency medical services personnel who also need gear.
“That is why the need for equipment … is just so great,” Northam said. “It is literally in the millions.”
State epidemiologist Lilian Peake noted that the state had its biggest spike yet in reported cases Wednesday, with 101 new confirmed infections from the day before, for a total of 393 Virginians diagnosed.
That included three deaths: Two on the Peninsula and one in the Danville and Pittsylvania County area along the southern border of the state. All three were adults, but Peake provided no further details.
Northam said the uptick was partly because of an increase in testing — private labs and universities are also now identifying infections, as well as the state lab — but also simply reflected the spread of the disease. “It’s clear that we’ve got community spread now, that is quite obvious,” he said.
State health officials said they cannot predict when the peak of the outbreak might occur, though data modeling is underway.
“We are just at the beginning of this, we are not at the middle,” Northam said. “As I have said, we are not talking about weeks. Unfortunately we are talking about months, and we are going to see these numbers unfortunately continue to rise.”