CDH remains vigilant despite drop in COVID-19 cases

  • Joanne Marqusee, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2020 2:46:54 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Cooley Dickinson Hospital is currently “past the surge” of COVID-19 cases, the hospital’s President and Chief Executive Officer Joanne Marqusee said on Tuesday, but remains vigilant as staff anticipates a second wave at some point. 

At its surge, the hospital had up to 20 inpatients with confirmed COVID-19 infections at a time, Marqusee said at a virtual community meeting on Tuesday morning, representing just a small percentage of those who tested positive for the virus. The hospital currently has four confirmed COVID-19 inpatients, three of whom are in the intensive care unit.

The hospital is beginning to offer more of its services on a triage basis while maintaining a universal mask policy for staff, patients and visitors, Marqusee said, and urged people not to avoid medical attention for fear of catching the virus. The hospital continues to maintain surge capacity in the event that the need arises again in compliance with state and Mass General Brigham standards

“We know there’s going to be a second surge,” she said.

As to whether the hospital anticipates a second surge with large protests taking place locally in recent days, Marqusee said it’s too early to tell. In Northampton and cities around the world, thousands have gathered to protest against police brutality and racial injustice following the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis who died after he was pinned under the knee of a white police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for close to nine minutes.

“We want to continue to say to people, absolutely go out and protest,” Marqusee said, noting that protestors are addressing an important human rights issue. People should wear masks as a precaution when they attend protests, she said, adding that the outdoor settings the protests take place in also help to minimize virus spread.

The hospital offers drive-through testing, which was recently opened to people who have had contact with someone with COVID-19 infection if they have a doctor’s referral. People who feel they were exposed at a protest can also get a referral for testing, Marqusee said, though she noted that the hospital does not have the capacity to test everyone. The hospital can test up to 150 people per day, usually performing around 80 to 100 tests daily.

Marqusee also cautioned that testing does not eliminate the risk of COVID-19 infection, and that one-time testing can create a false sense of security, as someone can test negative for the virus one day and then test positive the following day. And antibody tests, which show whether a person was exposed to COVID-19 at some point in the past, are of questionable reliability, she added.

“We won’t see this as history until we have a vaccine,” Marqusee said, though she noted that if infection rates stay low and a second surge does not occur, people may be able to feel “quasi-normal.” Particularly in the local area, which has seen a relatively low number of cases, it is unlikely that the population will reach herd immunity, according to Marqusee.

The pandemic also has caused significant financial losses for the hospital, Marqusee said, which could possibly lead to “tough decisions” to minimize expenses in the fall. Cooley Dickinson received about $5.5 million in support from the federal government several weeks ago, Marqusee said, but has already lost over $15 million due to the pandemic and continues to lose millions of dollars every month.

“We’re not going to get the support we need from the federal government to make up for the tremendous losses,” Marqusee said, noting, “the loss of revenue has been significant.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.


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