MANCHESTER, N.H. – A hurricane is coming. It’s not clear if it’s a Category 1 or a Category 5 hurricane, but preparations are underway for a Category 5 just in case.
That was the main message from the leaders of Manchester’s two primary hospitals on Wednesday afternoon as they participated in an online event hosted by the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the New Hampshire Hospital Association.
In the hour-long discussion, Elliot Health System CEO Dr. Greg Baxter and Catholic Medical Center CEO Dr. Joseph Pepe echoed a variety of sentiments about the expected upcoming peak in New Hampshire’s COVID-19 cases believed to be coming sometime in mid-to-late April.
In preparation for that expected peak of COVID-19 cases, Pepe said that he is asking all personnel not needed to take time off now in expectation for when they’ll be needed, even allowing staff to take vacation beyond their allocations to ensure they are ready to work during the expected peak with specialized rooms at Saint Anselm College and Southern New Hampshire University in place for their needs.
Pepe likened the pandemic to a war, with his team trying to “prepare the battlefield” (finding more beds and ventilators), “procuring more armor for troops” (personal protective equipment like masks) and “calling for more troops and preparing to deploy them.”
He also pushed back against those who compare COVID-19 to the flu, saying the similarities end in regard to it being transmitted by a virus, as COVID-19 is three times more infectious, ten times more deadly and still has no real treatment or vaccine.
Both health leaders expected a vaccine to be developed at some point within the next 18 months, if not sooner, and that COVID-19 outbreaks were possible in future years, even if they would likely to be smaller due to possible future vaccines and herd immunity.
For Elliot’s network, Baxter said that his staff is beginning to see a rhythm following the initial disruption caused by the early day of the pandemic, although there is still plenty of stress that will only increase as the pandemic nears its expected peak.
He added that it was fair to be critical of the initial lack of response nationally to the outbreak, but that the country has begun to adapt.
Both men said that the pandemic had hurt the bottom lines of their respective hospitals as high-profit elective surgeries have been eliminated to make room for expected COVID-19 patients while staff has not been reduced. They also both shared what might be an unexpected view regarding the use of masks by the general public.
Although they urged people not to use N-95 masks, which are needed for front-line healthcare workers in frequent contact with COVID-19 patients, they said that the World Health Organization was unsure on the efficacy on masks preventing average people from getting COVID-19. Ultimately they said mask use was more useful to help prevent the spread of the disease among those who may have the disease and not know it, although that benefit can be obtained by cloth masks. Baxter added that Asian countries where regular people commonly wear masks have largely experienced different outcomes in recent health crises, although those outcomes may come from different cultural norms.
The event was the latest in a series of online discussions offered by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. More information on this event and others can be found at Manchester-chamber.org