Pittsburgh-Area Hospitals Confident They Can Handle COVID-19 Surge

Doctors are urging everyone to rethink their holiday plans.


Unlike hospital systems in other parts of the country, doctors at UPMC and the Allegheny Health Network say their systems are prepared to handle an influx of COVID-19 cases.

“We’ve been planning and preparing for a variety of surge situations over the past many months,” Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz, chief medical officer of UPMC’s ICU Service Center and executive vice chair of critical care medicine, said Wednesday.

Daily case numbers in Allegheny County are higher now than at any time during the pandemic. The difference between now and last spring is that fewer patients are expected to require hospitalization and those who do are more likely to recover.

COVID-19 cases occupy less than 7%, amounting to 395 patients, of UPMC’s inpatient beds. While hospitalizations are rising, Sackrowitz says those patients are far less likely to need intensive care than at the beginning of the pandemic and those who do are less likely to need ventilation. UPMC’s mortality rates, ICU rates and ventilation rates have dropped by 50% from spring.

At AHN, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald Whiting tells the Post-Gazette that it has 106 COVID-19 patients with about 10% on a ventilator. He also says the network has seen significant decreases in the number of patient deaths, ICU admissions and the use of ventilators since March and April.

Whiting suggests Halloween parties might have contributed to the recent surge in cases and says it’s obvious not everyone is adhering to recommendations by health professionals.  “We haven’t been able to unify our society around the fact that masking, social distancing and hand-washing is our best defense against spreading the disease,” he says.

Whiting and Sackrowitz both agree that typical, large, indoor Thanksgiving gatherings will only make matters worse.

“Holiday wisely during a COVID pandemic,” Whiting suggests.

“We are asking everybody to change their behavior over the holiday season,” Sackrowitz adds. “It is important that all of us modify how we celebrate now so we can be together with our extended families in the future.”


Categories: The 412