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Why slowing the spread of the new Coronavirus matters in Ohio. Cincinnati Enquirer

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[This story is published for all readers in the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Support local journalism by subscribing to The Enquirer.]

The medical director of UC Health’s emergency management said Wednesday that while some supplies are short, Cincinnati’s area hospitals can confront an expected surge of patients needing intensive care for the respiratory disease COVID-19.

“We have the luxury of being of the last parts of the country where this disease settled,” said Dr. Dustin J. Calhoun. “The advantage of being in one of the later parts of the country is that it gives you more time to get prepared, when it’s critical.”

Calhoun is among leaders at UC Health putting the system on a battle footing against what Gov. Mike DeWine has frequently referred to the “unseen enemy” – the novel coronavirus. The pathogen emerged four months ago in China. Humans have no immunity, and infection can advance to COVID-19, a respiratory illness like pneumonia. As of Wednesday afternoon, 10 people had died in Ohio of COVID-19.

Ohioans are living under a stay-at-home order to halt gatherings of more than 10 people to break the infection spread. Public health experts hope the distancing will hold down the number of people who require more care so that hospitals are not overwhelmed.

DeWine has forecast that Ohio is about seven to 10 days behind New York City, now with a death rate from COVID-19 that doubles every day. Calhoun has seen “a lot of epidemiological modeling” and is not as confident about that time span.

Calhoun said numbers for current hospital capacity and what a COVID-19 surge could be “are really fluid numbers” and are meant to be. “We spend a lot of time asking ourselves, how can we maximize the utilization of our resources,” he said.

The 2018 American Hospital Directory lists a total of 555 beds at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and 153 beds at UC Health’s Butler County property, West Chester Hospital.

“Our region, our health systems started planning nice and early, and that has given us this time to get our feet under us,” Calhoun said. “We haven’t seen the skyrocketing surge of patients in the region yet, and we are being able to use this time and step back and figure out where we go.”

Supplies of PPE, or masks, gowns, goggles, shields and booties for hospital workers, is “certainly on our radar,” Calhoun said. “We’re not in a dire situation, but we are monitoring it closely. “

Calhoun also said UCMC’s standing as the region’s main trauma hospital “does afford us the impetus to maintain a pretty high level of preparedness on a daily basis.”

The need for ventilators is “always a concern,” Calhoun said. Ventilators provide mechanical breathing assistance, at the peak of intensive care, and COVID-19 patients in China and Italy often need that help to survive the illness. But Calhoun said UCMC has the largest ICU in the region with “a significant number of ventilators.”

Planners are developing other ways to give patients that mechanical help, even by putting two patients on one machine, although Calhoun said that’s not a necessary option yet.

Calhoun said area hospitals execute a drill at least yearly of evacuating a hospital, sending patients to other facilities to “surge” capacity 20% to 50%. Emergency management officials in hospitals collaborate on the drills, Calhoun said, he already knows people across the systems organizing the response to the epidemic.

Calhoun, 42, has been an emergency doctor with UC Health for nine years and before that served a fellowship at UC in emergency medicine. For people like him, a crisis is another day at the office.

“We’re always appreciative of the ability to use the tools and the knowledge that we’ve gained through our planning,” Calhoun said. “I’ve heard people say this is a once-in-a-career event, and I very much hope that’s true.”

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