Vidant Medical Center could be treating 600 COVID-19 patients from Pitt and Greene counties in 50 days if more action isn’t taken to limit the movement of people in those two counties, the hospital’s president said during Monday’s Greenville City Council meeting.
If admissions from the 29 counties the hospital serves are added, the number would jump to 750 in 50 days.
With 600 patients already in the hospital, that would mean a hospital with slightly less than 1,000 beds would have 1,200 patients to treat, said Brian Floyd, president and chief operating officer at Vidant Medical Center.
Floyd attended Monday’s meeting to urge the city council to enact a shelter in place order that would close businesses and keep people from congregating in large groups.
The city council approved a motion giving Mayor P.J.Connelly authority to issue such as order. Connelly said he and staff will look into options today.
The Pitt County Board of Commissioners, who heard a similar request from Vidant Health CEO Michael Waldrum Monday night, had issued the order for unincorporated areas of Pitt County shortly after 9:30 p.m.
The City Council started its meeting with a vote to modify its rules so members could participate via telephone. Connelly, along with council members Monica Daniels, Will Bell, Brian Meyerhoeffer and William Litchfield were in the council’s chambers while council members Rick Smiley and Rose Glover participated via telephone.
There is the fear of the disease and fear of how the measures needed to limit its spread will affect the economy, Floyd said, but COVID-19 will spread. Nothing suggests its spread in Greenville and eastern North Carolina will be any different than its spread in New York and California.
Vidant’s ability to respond to COVID-19 is dependent on the community’s response, Floyd said.
Vidant, which laid off nearly 200 administrative employees earlier this month due to unexpected revenue shortfalls, already has cut off its most significant revenue producing business, elective surgeries and other procedures, he said.
“It’s a significant thing to do for a $2 billion organization,” Floyd said.
United States health officials are urging people to distance themselves from other to slow the spread of the disease and reduce the spike in new cases. However, Floyd said data shows the United States’s curb is already ahead of that of Italy and Spain at the time period of the disease’s spread.
North Carolina cases are also in a steep curve, he said.
“We are so grateful to see the actions you’ve taken but we feel it’s important for you to go further,” Floyd said. And going further means staying home.
“What we say is, be at home as much as you can for as long as you can be,” Floyd said. “That’s what we would love to see happen.”
While the governor has made it a misdemeanor for groups larger than 50 to meet, Floyd said that still is exposing a lot of people.
People in rural counties are equally susceptible to the disease's spread, even though there are fewer people, he said. They also are likely to experience more complications but the population is older, has less access to health care and already has risk factors such as lung or heart disease and diabetes.
When asked if the hospital has sufficient supplies, Floyd said the institution did prepare for a pandemic but is careful about usage given the nationwide shortages in masks and other supplies. The hospital is looking for ways to sterilize and reuse masks.
Meyerhoeffer asked if Vidant was alerting patients from outside the county who suspect they or a family member have COVID-19 to not visit any other locations in Greenville. Floyd said yes.
The hospital also is trying to keep individuals in their community hospitals.
Meyerhoeffer asked what the time period for a shelter in place order should be.
Floyd said it’s unclear, because it’s dependent on the rate of new infections dropping. Connelly said it would be difficult to ask the business community to close for 14 days and then say it hasn’t been long enough.
“For me, the best way to go about this is to go statewide,” Connelly said. Floyd agreed.
Council unanimously voted to give Connelly the authority to issue a shelter in place order.
Bell wanted to go one step further and adopt a motion ordering city staff and Connelly to prepare a shelter in place order and bring it back to city council for a vote, if necessary.
Litchfield and Meyerhoeffer objected because the previous motion gave the mayor the authority.
Bell said it’s important for the community to know the city council supports a shelter in place order.
“We are going to do this eventually, we might as well do it know when it can make a difference,” Smiley said.
“I think the specifics are important,” Litchfield said. ‘I think we want to be careful about the economic impact of a shelter in place.”
Connelly asked Floyd to address the economic impact. While Floyd spoke, Bell and Meyerhoeffer could be heard arguing if the motion was necessary.
Connelly proposed modifying the motion to leave off bringing the order back to city council. Bell agreed.
While Meyerhoeffer and Litchfield could not be heard voting in favor of the motion, they did not vote against it, so the motion passed unanimously.