NY hospitals fight overcrowding with new COVID-19 categorizations for patients

Coronavirus

NEW YORK — With COVID-19 cases in New York at record levels, hospitals started cataloging their COVID-19 cases in a new, specific way Tuesday, with the intention of preventing the hospitals from becoming overcrowded.

So far, the new method, ordered by Gov. Kathy Hochul, seems to be off to a solid start, according to some medical experts. They also said, though, that there’d be much less concern about overcapacity if more people were vaccinated.

The COVID-19 numbers are the highest they’ve ever been. For nearly a week now, more than 20% of all people who’ve tested for COVID statewide daily are testing positive. Ideally, that number should be below 1%, to prevent viral spread.

Also, of all of the positive cases that have been detected statewide, just below 60% are in the five boroughs of New York City, and the average number of cases has risen steadily over the last five weeks to their highest levels ever, according to state research numbers.

The sharp and steady rise in cases has left hospitals concerned that they are getting close to full capacity. 

Dr. Teresa Amato, the chair of the emergency department at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital, said close tracking of every patient in every department in the hospital is vital in ensuring that full capacity isn’t reached.  

“Every patient that’s getting admitted is getting a swab,” she said. “And we’ve had some people surprisingly test positive. We’ve had people coming in for another concern that we’ve identified, such as a surgical issue, and they’ve tested positive.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul implemented a new policy, made for all 214 hospitals across New York, Tuesday.

“We’re going to have all hospitals to break out for us how many people are being hospitalized for COVID symptoms,” Gov. Hochul said Monday.

She went on to say that the cataloging would determine “how many are testing positive when they’re in [the hospital] for other treatments. I think that’s important.” 

In other words, someone who, for example, is sent to the emergency room with a broken leg, then tests positive for COVID while they’re there is specifically categorized as someone admitted for non-COVID issues who tested positive.

Dr. Dyan Hes, the medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in Manhattan, has treated COVID patients and has had to determine which patients have to be sent to the hospital.

Hes explained the new state policy is vital because it helps allocate resources.

“I need to know that if I have a heart attack in my neighborhood,” she said, “that there’s a bed for me.  I think that’s the priority.” 

Both Dr. Hes and Dr. Amato said the state’s hospitals would probably not have to be as concerned about capacity as they are now if more people did what’s needed to promote widespread health.

“The big push is still the vaccines and boosters right now,” Dr. Amato said.  “We are definitely seeing the sicker patients, the patients who are coming in really symptomatic, have been unvaccinated.”

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