From the President of the United States to an ER doctor at a small, rural hospital in San Benito County, the message is the same—the world is at war with a foe so small it is all but invisible, yet it is lethal enough to potentially kill millions.
As of April 3, the number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus worldwide was 58,727, with over 1 million cases, 806,228 infected patients, and 228,038 who recovered, according to the Worldometer.
In San Benito County, two people have died from the virus, but that could change over the next two weeks, said Dr. Michael Bogey, medical director of the emergency room at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital.
As coronavirus cases spike in surrounding counties, Bogey explained on April 1 that doctors and nurses at Hazel Hawkins are preparing for a jump in local numbers.
“Over the course of a week, New York has exploded,” Bogey said, “and the Bay Area is beginning to explode. We are starting to feel it here. We’ve been seeing these people and if they’re not that sick they go home, but if they become sicker, they come back to the hospital. It’s the calm before the storm.”
As of April 3, there were 23 confirmed cases in San Benito County, six active, 15 recovered and two deaths. Of the 23, Bogey said two have been hospitalized, and one is on a ventilator. Because of HIPAA laws, he could not comment further on patient details.
“Our message is to please stay at home because the only defense we have is to stay home and let it die out,” he said.
Spirits are high among hospital staff as they continue to prepare for what they believe will be an onslaught of cases over the next two weeks, Bogey said. He described Hazel Hawkins as “a tiny hospital with a big mission,” and said that it had just been certified as a critical access facility, a two-year process that could provide $3 million to $4 million in Medicare reimbursements and called for a reduction in the number of beds.
This may be a moot point should COVID-19 patients overwhelm the hospital, Bogey said, as the beds that were removed would have to be returned. He said if that happened, he doubted anyone would object because of the sheer number of patients that could be admitted.
According to Frankie Gallagher, director of marketing and communications for Hazel Hawkins, the hospital currently has 105 physicians, 686 employees and 30 allied health professionals including physician assistants, pediatric nurse practitioners, adult nurse practitioners and nurse practitioners. Despite that, the hospital has started recruiting additional medical professionals should they be needed.
“We’ve been building our defenses and rehearsing and prepping,” Bogey said. “We’ve got a big plan for the expected surge. We’ve built a plan for PPE [personal protection equipment] usage. We have extra staff and we had a construction team come in and make an area capable of having a negative pressure environment [air leaving those areas is filtered], so we could put coronavirus patients in that area so their germs will not be spread throughout the hospital.”
Outside the hospital doors, the COVID-19 triage tent is ramping up to accommodate more people.
“People have been angry about the testing,” Bogey said, “but we’ve always wanted to test everybody because we want to know what’s in our town. But we were told who we could or couldn’t test. Now, I’m able to expand that a little more through much broader criteria. We need the data, so we know if this thing is growing exponentially or is it just trickling down.”
In conjunction with San Benito County Public Health Services, the hospital has been able to revise testing criteria for COVID-19 to enable more people to be tested. If a person shows symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) or has come in contact with someone who has the virus, the hospital asks that they call the hotline at (831) 636-2640 to be screened and receive further instructions.
“If you have symptoms, we’ll figure out a way to test you,” Bogey said. “I’d like to test at least 30 people a day. We were running about 10 to 15 a day, which was the limit at that time.”
Bogey confirmed that Hazel Hawkins still lacks a machine to process tests in-house, so they continue to be sent to the Monterey County Public Health Department. The hospital currently has nine ventilators and is expecting a few more to come in from the state. Bogey said the hospital has reached out to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who announced the company would deliver free FDA-approved ventilators to hospitals.
Through planning ahead and rationing, the hospital has a sufficient supply of masks, Bogey said.
“We were used to using them once and throwing them away,” he said. “It’s a different mind-set now. We have to be really conservative because this is a long game where we have to think five months out.”
BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is working around the clock during this time when accurate information is essential. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s news.