State of our Readiness: Q&A with Dr. Troy Pennington

By Staff Reports

(Victor Valley)– During this current spike in COVID-19 cases, we can take some comfort knowing that most people will recover and not experience any serious illness or condition associated with the coronavirus. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has proven to be a stubborn and indiscriminate foe and, as such, the county is seeing a rise in hospitalizations. Other counties and states across the country have seen their hospitals reaching capacity with drained healthcare workers; but this a condition that San Bernardino County has thus far avoided.   We asked Dr. Troy Pennington, an emergency care physician at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center (ARMC), to share some answers to key questions going into the holiday weekend.
Update: San Bernardino County is experiencing one of the fastest climbing COVID rates in the state. How is that impacting our county hospitals? 
Pennington: The hospital census for the county overall is still 25% less than our July peak; however, we’ve seen our census increase approximately 40% week over week. In fact, there are three hospitals in the County with COVID-19 census levels higher than the July peak. ARMC, our county hospital, has experienced continuous growth in COVID-19 census since mid-October.
Update:    How is ARMC (and the County) ready for this surge in cases?
Pennington: The county and ARMC anticipated this increase, as has the nation. ‘COVID fatigue’ has translated into people not wearing masks and not being distanced, especially in social situations, and this has been the biggest contributor to the increases. The County anticipated that the combination of fall holidays and events would bring a similar condition as the events leading up to the July surge. In anticipation, the County acquired a portable facility that can house dozens of patients. ARMC also planned for a significant expansion of its own bed capacity. 
Update: How does a COVID surge in hospitalizations affect those that might require hospitalizations for emergencies or other causes? What about elective surgeries?
Pennington: In this COVID-19 situation, hospitals planned to expand bed capacity first by using spaces not usually used for in-bed treatment; and then by adding spaces that are not clinical, like conference or meeting rooms.   Hospitals also plan to curtail certain procedures that are not urgent or emergent so that they can apply staffing and space resources to meet the demands of the pandemic. Lastly, hospitals will look to their staff to take on the care of more patients. In July, 75% of the hospitals in the County of San Bernardino implemented their surge capacity and discontinued procedures that were not emergent or urgent. Many stretched their staffing to enable them to care for more patients.   
Update: Other than immediately getting tested, what should people do if they are experiencing COVID-like symptoms? When should they go to a hospital? 
Pennington: First of all, to help you avoid getting sick this holiday season PLEASE get your flu shot! Most people that contract COVID-19 have mild or even flu-like symptoms. Common symptoms of COVID-19 infection include fever, cough, mild shortness of breath, body aches, or headache. Others experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, and the loss of the sense of smell or taste is also a common complaint, which can help distinguish a COVID-19 infection from the flu. If you are experiencing symptoms of mild COVID-19 infection you should: Stay at home, contact your health care provider. Do not go out in public, except to get medical care or testing. While at home, separate yourself from other people and use your own bathroom if possible. When around your family use a mask. Do not share household items with other family members such as dishes, cups, towels, or bedding.  Use acetaminophen for a fever greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep track of your symptoms. Stay hydrated.  If you are in a high-risk category and have a new confirmed COVID-19 infection there is a new treatment available. This medication is a monoclonal antibody with a fancy name, Bamlanivimab. It is a medication that can be given to anyone meeting criteria for more serious infection. Candidates for this medication must be in a high-risk category.

Please contact your health care provider or contact the public health website at: https://sbcovid19.com/ You should immediately go to the hospital if you experience one of several emergency warning signs: Severe chest pain, pressure in the chest, or shortness of breath. If you have labored breathing at a rate of 30 breaths or greater a minute, you should call 911. In addition, call 911 if anyone is experiencing new confusion, or is difficult to arouse, or if an individual is experiencing a new bluish color or change around the mouth or lips. 

If you are experiencing any symptoms you feel are life threatening you should call 911.

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