Nevada County sees increased COVID-19 hospitalizations, testing demand
Nevada County residents should have two goals every day, Dr. Brian Evans said.
“One is don’t get COVID, and the other is don’t give COVID,” said Evans, president and CEO of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
Asked about Nevada County’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases, Evans said he was concerned, adding that as of Wednesday morning, Sierra Nevada Memorial had nine admitted COVID-19 patients, its highest number yet.
As of this week, he said, the hospital is able to take care of patients very well.
“The concern I have is that, if we see an ongoing significant increase in cases, that we will really become very stretched,” said Evans.
He explained the most pressing issue when it comes to potential strain at the hospital is staffing, in particular with nurses.
“What’s happened is that, throughout the country, as hospitals have seen more COVID cases and they try to deal with that, everybody is looking to get more nurses, including our hospital, and there’s just not enough of them to go around everywhere,” he said.
He said that, at this point, he is less concerned about capacity with regards to “the physical facility.” That includes ventilators and high-flow oxygen delivery systems, about which he said the hospital has plenty. It also includes beds and the square footage to hold them, and spaces which can be adapted according to “an elaborate surge plan.”
“Staffing is a challenge because you can’t simply create more health care professionals,” he emphasized.
On personal protective equipment, or PPE, Evans said the hospital has been able to obtain enough recently, due to both increased production throughout the pandemic and the hospital’s work to secure its supply lines. The hospital currently has a universal masking policy for both patients and staff.
He said, however, “It will be difficult to get all the PPE that we need if the numbers go up very, very dramatically. So we still need to be cautious, and we still need to be good stewards of all of those resources.”
Evans said Wednesday that he was concerned in particular about the transmission risk at Thanksgiving gatherings, for instance, but also throughout the winter as upcoming holidays and cooler weather may bring more people to gather indoors. He said that, as the hospital maintains close contact with Nevada County Public Health, they have seen that around two weeks generally pass between an individual becoming infected with COVID-19 and them falling ill enough to be hospitalized.
“So when we see that there’s a high probability there will be gatherings (Thanksgiving), we’re wondering how that will affect our inpatient COVID census roughly in early December, and I’m concerned about that,” he said.
The most important thing for people at this time, Evans said, is to follow the recommendations of public health experts and limit the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, washing hands, refraining from gathering, and limiting travel. He said there is a light at the end of the tunnel, improved therapies and vaccines set to come out, but the country isn’t there yet.
“What we have to do is get to the point where the vaccine is available to a large percentage of the population, and we have to do that with as many people alive as possible.”
“Over the last few weeks, as we’ve seen a rapid rise in COVID cases and increased community transmission, we’ve seen that appointments at the Grass Valley (testing) site have been booked out as much as one week in advance while others nearby had more availability,” said Taylor Wolfe, Nevada County administrative analyst, in an Wednesday email.
However, she wrote, the next available appointment at that moment was Black Friday.
“The availability of testing appointments varies day to day or even hour by hour depending on how many people are signing up for appointments at any OptumServe site,” said Wolfe.
According to Wolfe, the Grass Valley testing site — at the Grass Valley Memorial Veterans Building — had not been at capacity during periods of less community transmission in the county, but appointments began filling up “when we started to see the recent surge of COVID-19 cases and more community services being impacted,” in addition to some demand from people wanting to get tested before Thanksgiving.
The polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test conducted at this site takes about three days on average for results, according to Wolfe. She said that, last week, this site’s average turn-around time for results was 58 hours, around average despite an increased workload.
Wolfe emphasized that, as an option outside of OptumServe or other COVID-19 testing sites operating with the state and counties, testing is also available for many Nevada County residents through their primary care physicians.
At the Grass Valley site, she said, 165 tests can be conducted each day. The test-per-hour limit which determines this is set by the company based on staffing and the amount of time each sample collection should take.
“Nevada County Public Health is already working with the state on how we can increase our testing capacity,” said Wolfe. “This is a trend that most California counties are currently seeing, so there is increased demand statewide.”
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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