LMH Health projecting more than 500% spike in COVID-19 inpatients in next 2 weeks, leaders say at town hall

photo by: Meeting screenshot/COVID-19 town hall

Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino speaks during the Nov. 17 COVID-19 town hall meeting.

Lawrence’s hospital is projecting a more than 500% increase in COVID-19 inpatients in the next two weeks, an infectious disease expert said Tuesday night at a town hall meeting on the pandemic.

LMH Health infectious disease specialist Jennifer Schrimsher showed the projections during the Zoom meeting, which had roughly 140 participants. The projections show that by Dec. 1, there could be 173 COVID-19 inpatients in the hospital. On Tuesday night, the hospital had 28 inpatients with COVID-19.

“We are definitely preparing for 180 COVID-19 patients on Dec. 1. I don’t know that we’ll hit that, but we’ve got to be ready,” Schrimsher said.

The projections also show that of the anticipated 173 COVID-19 inpatients, 19 are expected to be in the ICU and 154 would be non-ICU.

In order to flatten the curve of infections and lessen any surge of cases, Schrimsher said it falls to the community to practice smart public health habits.

photo by: Meeting screenshot/COVID-19 town hall

This screenshot from the Nov. 17 COVID-19 town hall meeting shows LMH Health’s 14-day COVID-19 census projections.

About a dozen local leaders shared information during Tuesday’s meeting, including LMH Health President and CEO Russ Johnson, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Director Dan Partridge, Douglas County Health Officer Thomas Marcellino and infectious disease doctor Christopher Penn.

Partridge discussed vaccination planning and said he hopes to have COVID-19 vaccines in hand — and in people’s arms — by the end of the year. But there will be a three-tiered system for how vaccines will be distributed, Partridge noted.

The plan is to first vaccinate those living in long-term care facilities. Next on the list would be first responders and health care workers. The third tier is members of the general population with high risk factors for the disease. Partridge estimated that general population vaccine delivery could take place in March.

In response to a question about how high-risk members of the general population will know when they can receive a vaccine, Partridge said there will likely be a mass communication sent out about that when the time comes and that those community members will have to be screened at the vaccine site to ensure they are high risk.

Traci Hoopingarner, chief nursing officer and vice president of clinical care at LMH Health, discussed the hospital’s bed utilization and supplies.

Hoopingarner said that as of Monday night there were 106 inpatients at LMH Health, and 28 of them had COVID-19. That means about 26% of the hospital’s inpatients have the virus. Hoopingarner said the hospital has an adequate supply of PPE and ventilators. She also said the hospital recently found out it will have additional opportunities to get ventilators from the state, which is an option it did not have before. In response to a question in the Zoom chat, Hoopingarner said LMH Health is not planning on stopping elective procedures at this time.

The looming Thanksgiving holiday came up multiple times in the conversation. Marcellino called extended family gatherings “risky.” Penn, the infectious disease doctor, recommended trying to maintain 6 feet of distance between participants in an indoor dining situation. Partridge said that Halloween gatherings might have been the cause of part of the surge in cases in Douglas County.

“I worry greatly about Thanksgiving as that next Halloween and driving that curve even further,” he said.

In response to Partridge’s comments about Thanksgiving, a participant asked during the question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting why the health department would not recommend the closure of schools after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Partridge responded, “We are feeling good that the risk in schools is manageable.”

Earlier in the meeting, Marcellino said that the health department has found that schools can operate with reduced risk so long as adequate restrictions are in place. The health officer also said that health leaders recognize how important in-person school is for children’s educational growth and mental health.

Schrimsher said that as long as the right things are being done, people should be safe. She cited workers at LMH Health as an example and said that there has been no COVID-19 transmission from employees or between employees.

As Johnson wrapped up the session, he echoed Schrimsher’s comments. He said that while plenty of employees have gotten COVID-19 through gatherings or events in their personal lives, none have gotten it from transmission in the hospital.

“We have 1,800 employees and we haven’t had a single employee contract COVID from their workplace,” he said.

In his final message, Johnson called on the community to “hang in there together” and said he appreciates the sacrifices members of the community are making during the holiday season.

“All of y’all are making sacrifices for Thanksgiving and the holidays and gatherings and wanting to see people,” he said. “We really appreciate it. I think if we can stick to that we’ll get through this together.”


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