LENOIR — Crews were busy on a rainy Friday in Caldwell County setting the stage for a 30-bed field hospital to serve COVID-19 patients in Burke, Caldwell, Catawba and Watauga counties.
Samaritan’s Purse previously has set up field hospitals in Italy and New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The organization has agreed to construct, supply and coordinate staffing for the 30-bed field hospital and has received overwhelming interest from medical personnel across the United States who are willing to serve,” a release from Samaritan’s Purse said.
The field hospital will be used to treat those who test positive for COVID-19 but do not need to be on a ventilator, the Samaritan’s Purse release said. Caldwell UNC Health Care in Lenoir was selected as the location for the facility because of its central location to all of the hospital systems that will be served by it.
The announcement of the hospital came Thursday, the same day that Burke County added nearly 300 cases of COVID-19 to its total number of cases.
The Burke County Health Department said the influx of cases was because of a backlog of cases being reported from outside testing sites and cases reported through the state’s disease surveillance system. The department said it also was because of increased testing encouraged by state health officials.
But still, 1,100 active cases were reported on the Burke County's online COVID-19 dashboard Wednesday night. That dashboard lags behind the media briefings, and was only showing 6,098 cases compared to the 6,380 cases reported Thursday. The dashboard was not updated Thursday or Friday.
In a dashboard that Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge launched to display COVID-19 numbers for the hospital, there were 27 COVID-19 patients listed in the hospital at 5 a.m. Friday. Six of those patients were in the ICU.
Danette Brackett, executive director of business development for CHSBR, said the hospital’s current COVID-19 capacity is 35 patients, but that the hospital has a surge plan ready to provide room for 13 more patients if necessary.
If there comes a point where CHSBR runs out of capacity, Brackett said it would look to the field hospital for support.
The ICU has a capacity of 16 patients, and Brackett said there still is room.
There were 106 people hospitalized in Catawba County on Tuesday, according to a previous story from the Hickory Daily Record.
As COVID-19 hospitalizations increase, the region is reaching its hospital capacity. A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University predicted last week that the Hickory region has one week of Intensive Care Unit hospital bed capacity left.
Catawba Valley Medical Center would not comment on its capacity, or how much room it had to treat patients, because it has flexibility to expand or contract its capacity, Marketing and Corporate Communications Director Matt Webber said. The hospital is seeing high volume of critical care patients, a hospital statement said.
“The rising number of cases and hospitalizations is worrisome and we continue to ask the community to act responsibly with regard to social distancing and preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19,” the hospital statement said.
Brackett also forwarded The News Herald a sheet of frequently asked questions from Caldwell UNC Health Care and Samaritan’s Purse that explained the necessity of the field hospital.
“The current volume of COVID patients has spiked in recent weeks and many of the hospitals in this region are operating at maximum capacity,” the document said. “This spike is expected to sustain or accelerate into February and the additional resources the Emergency Field Hospital will provide can help assure we can address the needs of all patients.”
The field hospital is anticipated to be in place for about six weeks, according to the document. It said that projections suggest COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization will continue to surge in the coming weeks.
It will be staffed by Samaritan’s Purse, with Caldwell UNC Health Care providing additional staffing when appropriate, the document said.
There currently aren’t any volunteering opportunities available for people at the field hospital, but any medical personnel who wish to explore working with the unit should contact Samaritan’s Purse directly.
“On behalf of all the health systems participating in this effort, I’d like to thank Samaritan’s Purse for making this investment in the well-being of our communities,” president and CEO of Caldwell UNC Health Care Laura Easton said in the press release. “Planning for this added capacity now will help us provide the level of care our communities need as volumes continue to grow in our region.”
Moving forward, Brackett and CHSBR ask people to remain diligent about protecting against the spread of COVID-19.
"Wash your hands, practice social distancing, and love your friends and neighbors, wear a mask," Brackett said.
The Hickory Daily Record contributed to this story.