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December 07, 2020

Pennsylvania hospitals face 'dwindling resources' as COVID-19 patients fill ICUs

State officials are expected to implement new restrictions in the coming days

Illness COVID-19

Gov. Tom Wolf says state officials are considering 'all sorts' of restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Hospital beds are filling up with coronavirus patients.

The rapid influx of new COVID-19 cases are close to overwhelming some Pennsylvania hospitals, prompting state officials to consider new restrictions. 

With intensive care units filling up, residents could face the possibility of being sent elsewhere for treatment if the spread of the coronavirus is not mitigated. 

"Pennsylvania, we have a problem," Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday afternoon. 

The state experienced record-breaking increases in daily cases and hospitalizations over the weekend. 

There were 5,421 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of noon Monday. Of them 1,115 patients were in the ICU, with 614 using a ventilator or breathing machine

"Crowded conditions and dwindling resources are a reality in hospitals all across the commonwealth," Wolf said. "If we don’t slow the spread of this dangerous virus now, the reality is that COVID-19 will overwhelm our hospitals, will overwhelm our health care systems. That is dangerous for anyone who needs medical care for any reason."

State officials could enact new restrictions if the situation does not improve, Wolf said, admitting the mitigation efforts taken late last month have not worked. 

Those actions included stiffening the state's mask mandate, banning alcohol sales on Thanksgiving Eve and requiring schools to comply with guidelines if they continue to conduct in-person instruction.   

"We are looking at all sorts of things and will very shortly come back with new recommendations," Wolf said.

Some hospitals in Northern Pennsylvania say their ICU's are reaching capacity. If the hospitals run out of room, this could lead to deaths among non-coronavirus patients, Wolf said.

"If our hospital system is overwhelmed, people who might’ve survived serious illnesses – they’ll die," Wolf said. "This is increasingly likely with every day that COVID-19 continues to spread in Pennsylvania."

The state set records for new COVID-19 cases on three straight days last week, before dropping on Sunday and Monday. But those two days typically see reporting declines – and the 6,330 new cases reported Monday marked the most ever reported on a Monday. 

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania since the start of the pandemic is now at 426,444. Just six weeks ago, that number was around 200,000.

The positivity rate – the percentage of tests that come back positive – also has increased over the last week, jumping from about 11% to more than 14%. Every county has a positivity rate of at least 5% and there are nine counties with a positivity rate above 20%.

There were 42 new deaths were reported Monday and 69 new deaths reported Sunday, bringing the state's death toll to 11,373. There have been about 1,000 new deaths reported in the last week. 

"As the governor has highlighted, we remain extremely concerned about the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19," Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. "Many hospitals across the state have few ICU beds or in some cases no ICU beds. This is a significant challenge for our health care system in Pennsylvania, one that actually our health care system has never faced before."

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