Both Desert Regional Medical Center and JFK Memorial Hospital say they're seeing a "significant increase" in coronavirus patients, marking the highest numbers since the pandemic began.
Doctors are concerned it's going to get worse.
News Channel 3's Peter Daut spoke with Dr. Ziad Tannous, pulmonologist at DRCM, to learn more about the status at both these hospitals.
Peter: How are things in terms of coronavirus at both JFK and DRMC?
Dr. Tannous: As most of the Southern California hospitals that are experiencing we are experiencing a very significant surge in the positive cases, and our senses of COVID positive patients have significantly increased in the last couple of weeks, I would almost say a 100 percent increase in the number of COVID positive patients both here and at JFK.
Peter: What do you attribute to that?
Dr. Tannous: As expected, the combination of the memorial day weekend, the protests, opening of phase 2, the accelerated phase 2, it was kind of predicted really that the transmission of the disease will increase and therefore more cases will come to the hospital. So, it was kinda expected to be honest, but I think all these combination of factors are contributing to the increase in the census, so this is not only us, this is across southern California, more specifically in riverside county. We tracked the numbers and it is a significant increase this is probably the highest senses of COVID positive we had since the pandemic started.
Peter: How concerning is this for you right now and is the hospital prepared if the numbers keep going up?
Dr. Tannous: So yes, from the very beginning both here and at JFK, we developed a surge plan and backup plan of all kinds of equipment, like PPE, ventilators, oxygen equipment, bed capacity, ICU capacity have been prepared for day one. And we didn't have to use it early on. We were prepared for it, but we never had to kind of utilize our resources and right now where are at a phase where we may need to, we're not there yet, but we are able to absorb and take care of those COVID positive patients that come through our door. So far we're doing very well, we're prepared both manpower and equipment-wise. And room capacity to try and absorb and take care of all these patients that come through our doors.
Peter: What about ICU capacity?
Dr. Tannous: Yes so ICU capacity has also been increased. Right now a significant number of ICU patients that are COVID positive, they are very ill, and ICU bed capacity had been extended also, so we do have a surge plan for ICU capacity and ventilators and oxygen equipment that is ready to be utilized.
Peter: Any numbers you can provide us in terms of how many patients you have and breaking down the numbers of ICU patients?
Dr. Tannous: Sure. So, we have about in the last two weeks or so, an average daily census of COVID positive anywhere from upper 30s to upper 40s on any given day, in the intensive care unit we have about average between 10 to 15 patients that are ill with COVID, and another 10 to 15 who are not as sick or as stable as the rest are might be, that are ready to go either way, either if they get sicker they go to ICU, if they get better they move to the next level up, and the rest are regularly monitored floors, but the average is I said anywhere in the upper 30s to the upper 40s on any given day. This has been going on for the last 2 weeks.
Peter: And what is the trend among patients? mostly older or variety of ages?
Dr. Tannous: That's a great question, because as we all know, this is a disease that basically affects mostly the elderly and people with other medical problems, and we see the highest mortality in that age group, and we still have that same phenomena, but however right now, we have younger patients and they are ill, so this is not exclusive to the elderly and the patients with high risk infections. We are seeing younger patients as well that are critically ill.
If you ask me, I think it's the fact that the work force is coming back a little bit, there's more exposure, more younger population getting infected and a portion of them are getting sicker. And are admitted to hospital and some in intensive care unit.
Peter: So let me ask you, doctor. What do you think of the reopening that's happening right now, more businesses are opening back up?
Dr. Tannous: Yes it does, and I think that it's inevitable that we open, I think we have to be careful with how we do it, I think we ought to be exercising all the precautions, social distancing, hand hygiene, and self isolation for symptoms, and it's inevitable as we see increase as we open up, but I think the main thing is to try to concentrate on education of public on all the safety measures that have been recommended from day one.
This is here to stay awhile. The way I see it, we have to be prepared, I know we have to open up, but we have to be cautious how and how we proceed from now on.
Peter: Do these patients know where they contracted coronavirus? At a business, home, specific part of town?
Dr. Tannous: So this is where you do the contact tracing, and quite a few of them do know how they got it. They know workers of nursing homes, or inmates of prisons that we get some. Anything that has aggregation of populations like assisted living, those places are easier to transmit than other places where there is more social distancing. And quite honestly there are times we just don't know. We don't know how they got it, we do find positive cases where they come with different conditions, that they happen to be positive as well. It's all over it's everywhere. That's where we have to be careful.
Peter: And are you seeing a lot of patients from Imperial County?
Dr. Tannous: Yes we definitely have, and we are seeing cases, there seems to be some type of outbreak that happened in that area, and they have reached capacity so all the hospitals have opened their doors to help out, and that is also another factor that led to an increase in our census.
Peter: Do you think there could be a major spike in cases if we continue on this current trend come the fall, and if so, what does that mean?
Dr. Tannous: This is a possible scenario where as we open up, the cases will increase. But what we're hoping is that more education and more precautions will flatten the curve again, the Fall with the Flu season will become problematic, and it will definitely increase our admissions are what the predictions are for now.
Peter: And how important, sir, is it to get antibody testing?
Dr. Tannous: So the antibody testing is a controversial topic, for the inpatient population, it doesn't carry a lot of weight. All it tells us is that the individual had a COVID infection. When and whether that person is immune or not is still up in the air, it's all been studied.
Peter: What about patients at the hospital who do not have coronavirus, what precautions are being taken for them?
Dr. Tannous: That's a great question, I'm glad you asked it, what we have and other hospitals, is we have segregated the COVID versus non-COVID patients, I'm hoping this will never discourage the situation or the public from coming with any complaints or medical problems. We are still able to take care of it.