Geisinger currently admits COVID-19 patients at a rate of once per hour systemwide and the fall surge will only get worse, according to Jaewon Ryu, the hospital system’s president and CEO.
The positive test rate surpassed 20 percent this past week and at 190 patients hospitalized daily on average, Ryu said Geisinger’s peak patient load is far beyond the high of 130 in the spring. Nov. 9 was the day the hospital system passed its spring high and has increased every day since then, he said.
“Closing in on 200 and rapidly climbing,” Ryu said of hospitalizations during a press briefing Friday.
For the first time in the occasional briefings, Ryu kept a face mask on, noting he’s abiding by the most recent universal masking order from the Commonwealth.
“Given that the positive testing rate is continuing to climb, the worst is yet to come,” Ryu said.
The test rate had been as low as 3 percent in the summertime.
Ryu challenged certain myths associated with COVID-19. The majority of hospitalizations aren’t from nursing home patients. He said that group represents just 10 to 15 percent of hospitalizations during the weeks-long surge.
Yes, people age 65 and older and those with preexisting conditions are at higher risk of severe illness. However, Ryu said 41 percent of Geisinger’s current COVID-19 patient population is under the age of 65 and half of that subset is younger than 55.
People in their 20s, 30s and 50s are the main contributors to the spike in the rate of positive testing, Ryu said.
“People in their 20s and 30s are at lower risk of needing hospitalization but they are rapidly comprising a larger share of who is testing positive,” Ryu said.
Geisinger reduced its elective procedures by 10 to 15 percent to shift staff and resources to COVID-19 patients and prevent further spread of the virus, Ryu said. He called it the result of a “second wave playbook,” acknowledging that medical staff has learned more about the virus and gained experience in how to react to a surge.
The virus has reached community spread and the upcoming holiday season is cause for concern that the spread will continue. Other contributors include cold weather moving activities indoors and the return of college students to their family homes. Unless students test negative right before they return, Ryu said they should quarantine until a negative test is received.
Asked about high school sports indoors this winter, he said there’s no black and white answer. People should use caution, Ryu said, reiterating that outdoor activities, especially when masked, are safer than anything indoors.