In latest COVID update, southwest Virginia tops Northam’s list of concerns

The Governor points to a relative lack of ICU beds in the region
Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 11:58 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) -For the first time in two weeks, Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the state of COVID-19 in the commonwealth. Topping his list of concerns: the rise in cases in southwest Virginia.

“Southwest Virginia is seeing more cases per day on average - 229 - than any other region in our state,” said the governor, who noted the Southwest has the highest percent positivity of COVID-19 tests in the state.

But it’s not just the total number of cases that has the governor worried.

“The most concerning thing about the Southwest is, we just don’t have the hospitals or especially the ICU capability,” he said.

According to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, 71 percent of ICU beds are occupied state-wide, a number only slightly higher than normal.

At Carilion, Chair of Medicine Dr. Paul Skolnik said in a statement the hospital system has more than 100 ICU beds available across the region, and despite being prepared for months, a “surge has not occurred.”

Ditto for LewisGale’s hospitals. In an email, spokesperson Nancy May said “Even though COVID-19 cases have increased in southwest Virginia, LewisGale Regional Health System has not seen an increase in ICU patients with COVID-19.”

Both systems say they’re prepared to make more beds available if needed.

If that fails, “we also maintain a regional healthcare coordination center that can be activated by a disaster struck facility,” said Robert Hawkins, the executive director for the Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance. The group will help find beds in Virginia or beyond if there’s an overflow of COVID-19 patients at any one facility.

“It’s putting a hospital in touch with another hospital that has that bed space available that’s appropriate for that patient’s care,” he said.

While facilities in our region stressed they’re not at that point yet, they say it’s not impossible. According to Dr. Skolnik, “If the community continues its vigilance, we can avoid being put in that position.”

For his part, Governor Northam said all options are still on the table to address COVID-19. However, the Governor said he has no immediate plans to roll back reopening in any part of the state, including southwest Virginia.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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