Hospital CEO: Worst yet to come; large shipment of rapid test kits arrive in Chester County

Michael Duncan
Michael Duncan, president and CEO of Chester County Hospital, on a video conference call Thursday morning.SUBMITTED PHOTO

WEST CHESTER — The CEO at Chester County’s largest hospital said Thursday he expects the number of patients being treated for COVID-19 to increase significantly in the next two to three weeks.

But “game changing” news came Wednesday when Chester County Hospital received a large shipment of coronavirus tests that can determine results in just 45 minutes. Before this, it took up to 10 days for hospital officials to know the status of the tests.

“When we can test in big numbers, that will really change the game,” said Michael Duncan, president and CEO of Chester County Hospital, in a remote video conference with members of the Longwood Rotary Club. “We can test a lot of people now, not just those who have very specific symptoms. It helps us get people either isolated or clear to go.”- Advertisement –  TOP ARTICLES1/5READ MOREPennsylvania residents told to wear masks in public

Duncan said the hospital could soon receive a 5-minute coronavirus test.

Duncan said Chester County is now on the leading edge of the virus, which he feels could peak sometime between early May and the second week of June.

“This is real,” Duncan said. “It’s no hoax. We have to be prepared for a rapid ramp-up. We need to be innovative, flexible and we’re going to be called upon to be fluid in the coming weeks.”

Currently, the hospital is treating a handful of coronavirus patients, but Duncan said that number can increase significantly in a very short time as the peak has not been reached. The hospital could increase the bedding capacity to 400 if needed, Duncan said.

Some spaces at the hospital can be converted for use as an Intensive Care Unit, including post-surgical bays, operating rooms and prep and recovery rooms.

Because Chester County Hospital is part of the Penn Medicine group, it can share resources. That means the hospital can treat up to 100 coronavirus patients with ventilators.

Duncan said keeping health care workers safe is his top priority.

“It won’t do us any good to have 400 beds if we don’t have enough nurses,” he said.

Health care workers need Personal Protective Equipment, and that’s in short supply. A shipment of 40,000 surgical masks from Mexico City should arrive at the hospital on April 3. Duncan said the community has helped bring in sewing masks from fabric provided by the hospital. It’s the same fabric used to clean surgical instruments.

“We figured out how we can make our own surgical masks that are more durable than paper-base surgical masks and can be cleaned using UV light and reused,” Duncan said. “We can make 2,500 of those, and we have 2,500 employees.”

Although the number of deaths and those testing positive for coronavirus is expected to rise steadily in the coming weeks, Duncan said the curve will flatten much faster if everyone does their part.

“If you look at modeling, the difference it makes when a community does aggressive social distancing and hand-washing, there will be hundreds fewer people in Chester County admitted to the hospital,” he said. “Particularly in age groups of 60 a and up, especially 70 and up, I wouldn’t get out of your house. I would have friends shop for groceries at 6:30 in the morning.”

This strand of virus, which is not a living organism, but a protein molecule (DNA) covered by a protective layer of lipid (fat), spreads easily but isn’t hard to kill with hand soap.

“In our house, my wife’s regular routine is to wash down the refrigerator handles, toilet handles, sink handles and the front door,” he said. “You would be surprised at how many places you put your hands on a particular day.

“Our house smells like bleach, and I recommend yours does too.