Massachusetts has been in prevention mode to help curb the spread of COVID-19 for the past few weeks and the predicted peak of the virus is expected to hit in mid-April. Meanwhile, hospitals in the Bay State, including two that serve many Watertown residents, have been planning and adapting to the new virus to make sure they are prepared for the worst of the outbreak.
Statewide, there have been 16,790 positive cases of COVID-19, 433 deaths and 1,583 people hospitalized, as of April 8. Watertown has had 76 positive cases. Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker said Massachusetts could see between 47,000 to 172,000 cases of the Coronavirus and that the peak of new cases will occur between April 10 and 20.
On Sunday, the Boston Medical Center announced that it had reached capacity, the first Boston-area hospital to stop accepting new patients during the COVID-19 outbreak. Baker announced Thursday that a Field Medical Station will be created at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to provide an additional 1,000 beds for COVID-19 patients.
While they are not seeing the numbers of Coronavirus hospitalizations as the Boston hospitals, Mount Auburn Hospital and Newton-Wellesley Hospital have seen their fair share.
Mount Auburn had 24 patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 19 more with suspected cases as of April 7, according to Kelly Hill, director of Marketing and Communications for the Cambridge-based hospital. At Newton-Wellesley, as of April 9, the hospital had 71 inpatients with confirmed cases, 18 with suspected cases and 25 more under investigation for possible infections, according to the hospital’s Coronavirus webpage.
Watertown News spoke with a doctor in charge of overseeing the care and safety at Newton-Wellesley, Dr. Kristin Cox, about life during COVID-19 at the Newton-based hospital. She believes the hospital is ready for the height of the outbreak, locally.
“There has been a lot of work on surge planning, so we have a lot of contingency plans,” Cox said.
The hospital has already expanded the number of beds in its intensive care unit (ICU).
“We normally have, I believe, a 12 bed intensive care unit, and we have more than 12 ICU patients, so we have already expanded to a different location for an overflow for the ICU,” Cox said. “That was the first step of our surge planning.”
If more space is needed to treat people with the Coronavirus, Newton-Wellesley could expand into other units, such as the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) or the gastrointestinal (GI) unit, which are not usually used for those sorts of hospitalizations, but are equipped to do so, Cox said.
Mount Auburn is also preparing for an influx of patients.
“At Mount Auburn Hospital, and as part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, we are working around the clock to support the patients who need us and prepare for what will inevitably be a significant surge in patients,” Hill said. “We have added and continue to add inpatient capacity across our health system.”
Newton-Wellesley is part of the Partners Healthcare system, which also includes Mass. General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the North Shore Medical Center. Staffs from all the hospitals share information and resources.
“Obviously, I don’t know what every day will look like,” Cox said. “But that is one of the benefits of being part of this type of organization, where they can say, if one particular hospital is less impacted or more impacted, then we can share resources like ventilators and dialysis machines, and PPE (personal protective equipment).”
Because COVID-19 is a new disease, doctors learn everyday about new clinical updates, new trials and other information about the virus. Hospital staffs are in communication through conference calls, email, and the website to make sure they have the latest information, Cox said.
“We are always looking at the evolving info and data and making recommendations on how best to use our PPE and what is the best and most appropriate time to use different types of masks or gowns or gloves,” Cox said. “They give us really specific recommendations on how to use it appropriately so we have it in the times when we really need it.”
While much of the focus of hospitals these days is on Coronavirus infections, they continue to see people with other medical problems.
“We are fully ready and able to take care of patients with whatever illness that they have and we have seen patients with the regular illnesses that people used to come in with — heat attacks, broken bones,” Cox said. “Those are all things we used to see and we continue to see.”
Both Newton-Wellesley and Mount Auburn Hospital have created special areas to treat those with symptoms of COVID-19.
“In light of national supply shortages, we are doing everything in our power to obtain the personal protective equipment our staff need and have set up a separate triage area where we can evaluate patients with respiratory symptoms or other potential symptoms of COVID-19,” Hill said. “We are utilizing telehealth capabilities when appropriate in order to adhere to social distancing recommendations and to protect patients and staff.”
When arriving at Newton-Wellesley, patients are given protective gear, asked to use disinfectant on their hands and are quickly assessed for possible Coronavirus infection.
“We want to keep all of our patients and staff safe, so everyone is getting a mask and everyone is being asked over and over about these symptoms,” Cox said. “If you are hospitalized you are asked these questions every day incase something develops.”
Those who show symptoms are sent to the respiratory clinic, Cox said, where they can be evaluated and given lab tests and chest X-rays to find out more about their condition.
Cox said the Partners hospitals have enough PPEs, but they also are accepting donations.
“We are definitely accepting donations,” Cox said. “We certainly want to make sure they meet our criteria for quality of them and that they are packaged, and they provide the appropriate protection.”