As the Labor Day holiday weekend starts, an apparent surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in Fulton and Montgomery counties has been putting pressure on the intensive care unit capacity at Nathan Littauer Hospital and St. Mary’s Healthcare.
Both hospitals Thursday reported having more than 50 percent capacity available in their Intensive Care Unit beds, but federal and state hospital capacity data shows both have had under 50 percent ICU bed capacity at different times over the past several weeks.
“We are seeing an uptick in community cases,” stated Scott Dugan, Nathan Littauer Hospitals’ nurse manager for its ICU/ Special Care Unit.
So is the Mohawk Valley Region as a whole. On Thursday, there were 64 total COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Mohawk Valley hospitals, the most since April 4 when there were 68.
Of the current hospitalized COVID-19 patients, as of Thursday 19 were in ICU beds, which is the most since March 3 when there were 21.
The highest number of COVID-19 patients in the Mohawk Valley during the pandemic occurred on Jan. 11 when there were 329, and the highest number of ICU beds in the Mohawk Valley was 59 on Jan. 12.
On Thursday, the state Dept. of Health’s forward.ny.gov online dashboard showed Nathan Littauer Hospital had a total of 6 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, with four of them occupying 50 percent of the hospital’s eight total ICU beds, with two of them intubated, meaning they are receiving mechanical assistance to breath.
Nathan Littauer Hospital Public Relations Coordinator Dakota Pike on Thursday said the hospital now has five COVID-19 patients total, with three using ICU beds.
“We are strongly encouraging members of the community to get vaccinated, wear masks whenever possible, and to stay 6 feet away from others,” Pike said.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ hospital utilization database — available at protect-public.hhs.gov/pages/hospital-utilization — Nathan Littauer Hospital had five of its eight ICU beds occupied as of the week of Aug. 19, bringing it down to 37.5% capacity.
Pressure on the available ICU beds in Fulton County comes amid a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases, which Fulton County Dept. of Public Health Director Laurel Headwell on Aug. 9 attributed to the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant. Headwell has advised that community spread of the virus has reached substantial levels, and even individuals who have received a COVID-19 vaccination should resume wearing masks during indoor gatherings.
Since then, the 7-day weekly average COVID-19 statistics for Fulton County have shown an increase in the number of positive cases each week:
• Aug. 23-30 — 194 people tested positive out of 2,664 tests given, 7.3% positivity.
• Aug. 16-22 — 108 people tested positive out of 2,031 tests given, 5.3% positivity.
• Aug. 8-15 — 66 people tested positive out of 1,387 tests given, 4.8% positivity.
• Aug. 1-7 — 38 people tested positive out of 1,267 tests given, 3% positivity.
• July 24-31 — 25 people tested positive out of 1,018 tests given, 2.5% positivity.
The CDC has released reports indicating, on average, each person infected with the delta variant of COVID-19 is likely to spread the virus to at least seven people, compared to three people for the original COVID-19 strain dominant in 2020.
On Thursday, the state Dept. of Public Health data showed Fulton County’s 7-day rolling average COVID-19 positivity was 8%, the highest in the Mohawk Valley region and the second highest of any county in New York state, with only Chautauqua County in Western New York having a higher positivity over the past 7-days at 8.5%. Fulton County’s 7-day positivity percentage on Thursday was more than double New York state’s overall 7-day positivity rate of 3.3%.
Fulton County’s high rate of transfer of the virus coincides with its lowest in the Mohawk Valley ranking for percentage of residents with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at 47%, accounting for 25,177 people. Fulton County also ranks near the bottom of all of New York state’s 62-counties for percentage of residents vaccinated.
By comparison, 65.2% of New York state residents, about 13 million people, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Fulton County Dept. of Public Health is hosting a COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Sept. 23 at 10 a.m. at its Route 29 office in Johnstown. Residents must pre-register to access the clinic and can do so by calling 518-736-5720.
The vaccination percentage among Montgomery County residents has been persistently stronger than in Fulton County. As of Thursday, New York state Dept. of Health data shows 59.8% of Montgomery County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 29,550 residents total.
But St. Mary’s Healthcare’s hospital bed capacity has been strained at least as much if not more than Nathan Littauer’s capacity.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ data shows for the week of Aug. 19, St. Mary’s had seven of its eight ICU beds occupied, leaving it with only 12.5% available for use.
Rich Hyde, St. Mary’s Director of Marketing and Communications, on Thursday said St. Mary’s now has eight COVID-19 positive patients total, with two of them currently occupying ICU beds. That’s down from New York state Dept. of Health data which shows 4 ICU beds occupied with COVID-19 patients, one of the intubated, as of Wednesday.
Hyde said there are certainly more COVID-19 patients now than earlier in the summer, when the number was zero for weeks, but is still not as high as when COVID-19 was at its peak locally.
“For reference at the height of the pandemic our COVID-19 positive census reached the mid- to upper-30s,” he said.
The seven-day weekly average COVID-19 statistics for Montgomery County show the same upward trend as Fulton County, although not as steep:
• Aug. 23-30 — 136 people tested positive out of 2,381 tests given, 5.7% positivity
• Aug. 16-22 — 118 people tested positive out of 2,303 tests given, 5.1% positivity
• Aug. 8-15 — 72 people tested positive out of 1,351 tests given, 5.3% positivity
• Aug. 8-7 — 43 people tested positive out of 695 tests given, 6.2% positivity
• July 24-31 — 25 people tested positive out of 652 tests given, 3.8% positivity
Hyde said St. Mary’s can increase its ICU bed capacity, if necessary.
“We do have the ability to quickly flex our ICU bed count up to four additional beds, for a total of 12, if needed,” he said. “By adding the beds, it allows St. Mary’s to safely respond to additional ICU needs from our community. This approved care plan was used during the height of the pandemic, but at this time we have not needed to expand that capacity.”
Hyde said St. Mary’s also works closely with other hospitals to share hospital bed capacity, when necessary.
“One of the most collaborative aspects of this continuing COVID-19 pandemic has been our ability to stay in close contact with all other regional health care facilities,” he said. “Not only has this been an effective way to share information and best practices across our region, but we watch our capacity closely and coordinate with those regional hospitals to transfer patients, if needed.”