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UPDATE | As COVID-19 patients fill Valley hospitals, a business plans 'disobedience'

Salem Regional Medical Center had only two beds available on Friday, down from 46 three weeks ago, according to new state data released this week.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Salem Regional Medical Center CEO Dr. Anita Hackstedde.]

CEDARVILLE — On Friday, Salem Regional Medical Center had only two available beds, down from 46 just three weeks prior, according to hospital capacity data reported to the state.

The statistic was included in Ohio Department of Health data requested earlier this year by Eye on Ohio, which shows the availability of beds, medical equipment such as ventilators and PPE like gloves and masks at hospitals across the state.

The department's second release, which was provided Monday to Eye on Ohio and includes data current as of Nov. 20, indicates the number of beds available at several hospitals in the Mahoning Valley has shrunk in the past three weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic worsens. Some, however, have maintained similar capacity, the data show.

"As cases continue to rise sharply in our region, Salem Regional Medical Center is facing another surge of COVID-19 patients similar to what all hospitals across our region are seeing," CEO Dr. Anita Hackstedde said in a statement to Mahoning Matters on Wednesday.

The hospital is reallocating staff and resources "where they are needed the most," expanding ICU overflow capacity and limiting non-essential procedures, she said. The hospital is collaborating with several hospitals in northeast Ohio to manage patient overflow, she added.

"The key issue we all face is the number of patients is growing faster than hospital bed capacity. The end result is that each hospital must do its best to expand internal capacity to meet our community’s urgent need for care during this health crisis," Hackstedde said. "During the coming weeks, especially over the Thanksgiving holiday, each person’s choices will determine whether this virus continues to spread out of control. We ask everyone to wear a mask, socially distance and wash your hands to not only protect your loved ones, but our caregivers. We need them to stay healthy so they can take care of our patients.”

You can see localized data on available hospital beds and ventilators below. Click here to view a full-size version. Graphs illustrating medical, surgical and ICU bed capacity levels at Valley hospitals since March can be found in the gallery above.

 

Eye on Ohio's latest report comes on a day Ohio yet again reported more than 8,000 new coronavirus cases; a day when overwhelmed and "exhausted" hospital caregivers pleaded with Ohioans for more caution ahead of the holiday season.

More than 40 percent of Ohio's about 370,000 cumulative cases were reported in just the last 30 days, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. Of the about 16,000 cases reported in the Mahoning Valley to date, about 7,100 were reported in the last 30 days.

Gov. Mike DeWine, during a Tuesday briefing on the state's coronavirus response, said 4,449 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in Ohio — about a fifth of all those currently hospitalized in the state. About a quarter of those COVID-19 patients are receiving intensive care, he said.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the state health department's chief medical officer, said COVID-19 patients are taking up to 30 percent at some Ohio hospitals, which is "unheard of." The recent rise in hospitalizations is believed to be linked to Halloween-time gatherings, he said.

"Thanksgiving could have a much more profound impact and could actually result in our hospitals being overwhelmed," he said Tuesday. "This is a matter of personal responsibility. We really owe this to each other."

'Civil disobedience' planned as Valley officials issue new advisories

Mahoning County commissioners on Tuesday joined other Ohio metropolitan counties in approving the county's own stay-at-home advisory, encouraging residents to "Mask Up"; limit travel to only home, work or school or for essential needs like medical care or grocery shopping; and limit social gatherings during the upcoming holidays.

Mahoning County's average of new coronavirus cases per day has exploded from 41 new cases on Oct. 31 to 171 new cases on Nov. 21, health officials reported Tuesday. The county reported its highest single-day total, 236, on Thursday.

In Columbiana County, the weekly average for new cases has quadrupled in the last four weeks. If nothing changes, the county health department expects it will soon have to start prioritizing its new cases for contact tracing work, officials said during a Tuesday briefing.

Trumbull County commissioners also approved a stay-at-home advisory Tuesday. Nearly half of the county's 5,242 cases to date were reported in the last three weeks. A month ago, the county averaged about 200 cases per week. Last week, the county averaged about 161 new cases per day.

"It is certainly week-in, week-out to the point where it's stressing our agency," Trumbull Health Commissioner Frank Migliozzi said during a Tuesday meeting of the Trumbull County health district board.

"Our hospitals are inundated. ... They have some staffing issues which are further complicating things," he said, adding the ongoing community spread is being reflected in county school systems.

County schools are planning for remote learning through at least Jan. 3 and suspended athletics through Dec. 22, the Tribune Chronicle reported Tuesday.

"It's time we take further action on this," Migliozzi said.

The advisory has wide support from local political leaders, emergency management officials and school superintendents.

Board member John "Jack" Simon Jr. praised the commissioners' action on the subject but argued the order does not go far enough, supporting a more enforceable measure. He called out law enforcement for its lack of cooperation in enforcing state public health orders.

“I’m just going to put it out there. We haven’t had cooperation by prosecutor’s office or the local authorities to enforce the mandates set by the governor’s office, which I actually feel those are weak," Simon said. "But the mandates they have put in place for the mask-wearing and the six-foot distancing and the gatherings — those are all good mandates. They’re excellent mandates but they're not enforceable."

Only one health order violation case has been referred to the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office for prosecution, said board President Robert Biery.

"I’m not going to say the name, but I believe it’s for a local business; a restaurant that’s not enforcing and actually openly saying they will not force their customers and employees to wear masks,” said Simon. 

Top Notch Diner in Cortland has garnered media attention for refusing to enforce the state's mask mandate. A sign on its front door read "will not force any mask/facial coverings," the Tribune Chronicle reported in October.

A recently circulated flyer includes an invitation to a “civil disobedience rally" set for Nov. 28 at the diner. The diner plans to remain open from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., in direct violation of the statewide curfew DeWine announced last week.

Though it's unclear if Biery was referring to Top Notch Diner, Trumbull County court records do not indicate the business has been charged. Violations of state health orders are a second-degree misdemeanor.

Per the governor’s recent mask mandate revision, businesses not complying with the order will receive a warning and then be forced to close for 24 hours if reported a second time.

The human cost

Meanwhile, those interviewed by the governor during Tuesday's briefing shared how the pandemic has upended their lives.

Stephanie Marshall, a respiratory therapist at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center in Columbus, for the last eight months for COVID-19 patients — until she too became infected.

Marshall, who said she's asthmatic but "otherwise healthy 37-year-old" with two young children, appeared during Tuesday's briefing from her home, breathing through an oxygen tank, which her 7-year-old's been learning to adjust.

She was briefly hospitalized then returned home for two days before she developed pneumonia in both her lungs. Because her family was expected to quarantine, they had to drop her off outside the emergency room entrance.

"They knew how sick I was and I didn't know if that was the last time I'd see my family," Marshall said, her voice trembling.

Despite doctor's recommendations, Marshall said she "begged" not to be intubated, a process which requires patients to lay prone, facedown for long periods of time. She spent a week in the hospital before returning home with "long hauler" symptoms and the oxygen tank.

"I've cared for COVID patients and then I've been there myself," she said. "It's hard to sit in a room that you can't leave ... and the only people you see are in full PPE. You can't have family; you can't have anyone with you. It affects you mentally. The isolation to that is really hard.

"I just want the word out there, to let people know: It doesn't matter who you are. This virus doesn't discriminate."

Other news

• According to the latest figures Tuesday from the Ohio Department of Health, the state is reporting 371,908 confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus. There have been 7,276 confirmed or suspected cases in Mahoning County; 5,305 in Trumbull County; and 3,472 in Columbiana County.

• Statewide, there have been 6,118 confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths, including 299 in Mahoning County; 147 in Trumbull; and 97 in Columbiana. Mahoning County's 299 reported COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday was sixth among Ohio's 88 counties; Cuyahoga County had the most with 741.

• In nearby counties: Stark, 8,792 cases and 197 deaths; Portage, 3,348 cases and 72 deaths; and Ashtabula, 2,232 cases and 53 deaths.

• With COVID-19 cases spiking in the region, Kravitz Deli is turning its attention back to hospital workers, and its Inspired Catering staff will deliver 125 boxed lunches to workers at Mercy Health's St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital today. Since March, Kravitz Deli has delivered more than 1,000 boxed meals to the hospital with the help of customers and donors.

• An anonymous donor has promised to match up to $6,000 in donations to the YMCA of Youngstown on GivingTuesday, Dec. 1. Donors wishing to make a contribution to the YMCA of Youngstown for GivingTuesday should go to YMCAYO.org/givingtuesday.

• Health care centers and medical professionals are free from liability related to the COVID-19 pandemic under a new Ohio law signed by Gov. Mike DeWine. The new law temporarily grants qualified civil immunity to protect medical professionals from liability claims throughout the pandemic. It also expands the authority of emergency medical technicians to provide medical services in hospitals, if needed.

• According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health on Tuesday, there are 321,070 COVID-19 cases in the state which have led to 9,951 deaths. The state said the recovery rate is 63 percent. There have been 2,466 confirmed or suspected cases in Mercer County and 43 deaths; 1,929 cases in Lawrence County and 64 deaths.