As the number of COVID-19 cases across the Monterey Bay area increases, KAZU News spoke with Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Radner. Their hospital in Salinas has an alternative care site and a triage tent setup right outside the ER during the coronavirus crisis. Dr. Radner is also an infectious disease specialist.
Erika Mahoney (EM): Based on what you have seen so far, are we in the beginning, middle or end of this virus, and what do you expect going forward?
Dr. Allen Radner (AR): Obviously I can't give an absolute answer to that. We seem to be pretty stable right now and we're hoping that we're starting to see a downward trend in the number of cases. But we just don't completely understand the natural history of this disease.
EM: What advice do you have for people staying at home, particularly seniors?
AR: Stay at home. I mean, we think that our best defense at the moment is the social distancing and the shelter-in-place. We believe that one of the reasons we aren't seeing surges and that we don't look like New York or some of these big East Coast hospitals is that we did put these initiatives in place very early on. And we're very hopeful that that will really mitigate the number of cases in Monterey County.
EM: If someone comes in and tests positive, what's the process like?
AR: Our Monterey County Health Department is doing an incredible job trying to get testing out as quickly as possible. And generally speaking, if we get tests there in the morning, we can get the results back that evening. Otherwise, it's the next day. So having said that, when we have a patient that comes into our screening areas, they're triaged and if they're ill and if they need hospitalization, we bring them in the hospital. Otherwise, we send them home and have them do self-quarantine. Then, when we get the results, we reassess that. The overwhelming majority have done well at home and we continue to monitor them and we don't do anything different necessarily. Obviously, if they're in the hospital, we take care of them with the knowledge of the test result.
EM: What if staffing is impacted, what are your plans to fill in the gaps?
AR: People aren't coming in for elective procedures. People are staying away from the hospitals, if at all possible. So actually, we are replete at the moment with employees and we’re sending people home and trying to keep them home and safe. And we'll do our best to try to bring in additional people to help if we get to that point. We're working on plans of doctors who have retired and other community physicians that have already reached out to us and have offered to come back.
EM: There’s concern that there aren’t enough hospital beds or medical supplies. How are these holding up and to what extent are area hospitals coordinating the use of facilities and supplies?
AR: Area hospitals are talking almost continuously. We have a joint meeting every Monday of all of the hospitals, all of the major health care providers that the county is coordinating. I can tell you that at Salinas Valley Memorial, we feel pretty comfortable for at least a month worth of equipment and we continue to work on trying to procure additional personal protective equipment and other supplies. With respect to the number of beds, I mean, there's just… again, not an answer to that. We all have the ability to significantly expand our capacity. There's some misperception that, for instance, a ventilator patient has to be in an ICU bed. We've... historically, when we've really had marked increased numbers of patients, you can transform other parts of the hospital into ICU beds, surgical suites, recovery areas. So we have, we believe, a lot of capacity with respect to beds.
EM: What misperceptions would you like to clear up for the community?
AR: At the moment, things are under control here and it's safe to walk around your neighborhood and maintain social distancing. But it isn't the zombie apocalypse outside right now, certainly not in Monterey County. And I think there is enormous anxiety and it's really hard to turn on the news and not feel that way. And we're continually trying to get that message out that things are okay right now.
Dr. Radner added that people who truly need medical attention shouldn’t be afraid to access healthcare during this time. He encourages people to call their providers as many clinics have set up various ways of telemedicine. We'd like to note that Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System is one of KAZU’s many business supporters.