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New state data reveals growing ICU usage from COVID-19

Bob Atlas, President and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association. (The Daily Record / Jason Whong)

Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association. (The Daily Record / Jason Whong)

Maryland hospitals have seen a steady increase of COVID-19 patients over the past month, new state data shows, but hospitals say they still have beds available for people infected by the disease.

The state released for the first time Tuesday information about how many COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, including how many are in the intensive care unit and how many are in acute care beds.

“We have capacity in ICU. We have capacity in med/surg,” said Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association. “Every hospital has a surge plan. These numbers don’t even count the medical tents that the state has acquired to place adjacent to hospitals.”

Before Tuesday, the state had only been releasing the total number of people ever hospitalized for the disease. According to the new numbers, 1,433 people are currently hospitalized. Of those patients, 907 are in acute care beds, also called med/surg beds, and 526 are in intensive care beds.

Numbers on exactly how many intensive care beds exist in Maryland were not immediately available. But Atlas said the beds across all state hospitals are about 80% full. Less than half of those beds are filled with COVID-19 patients.

The number of intensive care beds utilized has grown steadily and nearly tripled this month, according to the state data.

Maryland and its hospitals are still preparing for a potential surge in patients. Gov. Larry Hogan included having 6,000 new beds available for a surge as one of the essential building blocks of his plan to reopen the state.

Hogan signed Monday an executive order to allow the use of alternate care sites, like the field hospital being set up in the Baltimore Convention Center. Right now, those types of sites and medical tents set up outside of hospitals have not been needed.

The Baltimore Convention Center and reopening closed hospitals in Laural and Takoma Park could add hundreds of acute care beds. Reopening University of Maryland Laurel Regional Hospital is expected to add 35 intensive care beds as well.

The increase in patients has reinforced the need for staff and personal protective equipment — safety gear that includes masks, gloves and gowns.

Hospital staff have been working on the response to the pandemic for more than a month and that has begun to take its toll, Atlas said.

“Probably the larger constraint is not physical beds but staff,” he said. “Staff are more fatigued, they are more potentially fearful of the situation, so there’s a slightly higher rate of call-out going on.”

Those staff also need protective equipment. While masks continue to be in demand, a new facility at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport to help sanitize N-95 respirators could help ease that issue. 

Atlas said that gowns could be the next concerns.

“I”m hearing an emphasis on the gowns,” he said. “Masks is a continuing concern. Gowns is a growing concern.” 

One piece of equipment that was a top concern for weeks is less of a need: ventilators. The ventilators help COVID-19 patients breathe and have been an essential tool for treating these patients.

Maryland has been working to increase its supply of ventilators, getting some from the national stockpile and loaners from other states, including California and New York. Atlas was not ready to declare victory on the ventilator front, but said the situation was good.

“We might suggest that ventilator capacity is pretty good right now, we just have to get them to the right places,” he said.

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