A mask ordinance might be vital in turning the tide of Greenwood’s increasing COVID-19 case numbers, said Self Regional Healthcare CEO Jim Pfeiffer.
Wednesday morning saw 32 COVID-19-positive patients housed at Self for care, along with 11 patients under investigation for likely having the virus. Pfeiffer said these are the highest inpatient care numbers the hospital has seen so far, and he and Chief Medical Officer Matt Logan endorsed the idea of city and county officials passing an ordinance to require mask wearing.
“The coronavirus that we’re dealing with, there is no preventative medicine that people can take,” Logan said. “The only things that currently can help slow or prevent the spread of this particular virus are social distancing, mask wearing and good hand hygiene.”
He said Self’s officials would strongly support city and county ordinances requiring masks. The benefits, he said, would be to reduce the spread and reduce the number of people potentially exposed and infected with COVID-19.
Self’s command center staff are monitoring incoming information nearly 24/7 and collaborating with the state hospital association, the American Hospital Association, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and county and state emergency preparedness officials to constantly review the latest data and information.
“We’re pretty confident that our dedicated and talented team can meet the growing medical needs of our community, despite our increasing case numbers,” Pfeiffer said.
The number of patients occupying hospital beds fluctuates constantly, but Pfeiffer said recently the ICU became full. That doesn’t mean it stayed full, however, and he explained that staff are constantly managing the logistics of figuring out how to safely transfer patients to other parts of the hospital where they can receive more specifically appropriate treatment.
“That changes not necessarily hour by hour, but throughout the day it changes,” Pfeiffer said.
In preparation for a possible surge of cases, hospital officials have identified space, equipment and staffing plans that will allow them to expand the number of available beds and meet an increase in patient demand. Logan said numbers haven’t hit a level where that’s become necessary, but they’re always monitoring the situation.
Not all COVID-19 patients need to be housed in the ICU, Pfeiffer said, and the majority of ICU patients are not COVID-positive. The hospital is licensed for more than 350 beds, but Pfeiffer said the realistic capacity is less than that.
“Now obviously those are not all staffed and occupied, and our total capacity is probably in the neighborhood of 250-260 beds total, in which we have about 30 ICU beds in total,” he said.
Logan said the hospital’s surge plans can add 14 ICU beds as needed, but there hasn’t been a need. He said they have enough ventilators to maintain an expanded ICU area, as well.
The indicators that could prompt the surge plan, Pfeiffer explained, were if the ICU was at full capacity and there was no chance of safely moving those patients to other areas of the hospital in the near future. He emphasized that the factors they monitor are fluid and ever-changing, but while the ICU is currently running at about 70% capacity, there hasn’t been a need to enact the surge plan.
Pfeiffer warned that the public needs to take actions to stabilize and reduce the infection rate, or the increase of cases could put even more stress on an already taxed health care system. That’s where masks come in.
Protective gear is becoming scarce across the South nationwide, but locally he said officials have been watching supplies carefully and believe they have enough to meet the ongoing demand. Of course, just as with case numbers and occupancy, he said protective equipment stock can fluctuate rapidly.
He said hospital officials are meeting with Greenwood city officials today to try to convince them of the value of an ordinance making mask wearing mandatory.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s become a political issue,” Pfeiffer said. “People say ‘You’re infringing upon my rights.’ Well, flip it the other way, you’re infringing upon my rights to safe health.”
It’s not just about covering the mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, as Pfeiffer said there’s increasing evidence that an infected person breathing openly in an enclosed space can emit enough particles of the virus to transmit it to others. Wearing a mask reduces the risk of transmission — “My mask protects you, your mask protects me,” Pfeiffer said.