Mark Twain Medical Center (MTCM) is ramping up capacity in preparation for new coronavirus cases, local health officials say.

The Calaveras County Public Health Department is working with Mark Twain Medical Center on “surge capacity” to expand patient care.

That means doubling the number of beds from 25 to 50 beds and increasing “Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity in anticipation of increased hospital and critical care demand in the next two weeks,” Public Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita told the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. “We’re monitoring the current supply of medical health supplies, such as ventilators, masks, gloves, gowns, what’s called personal protective equipment that healthcare workers use when assessing suspect coronavirus patients and that are necessary to maintain the safety of the healthcare workforce.”

The number of hospital beds per 1,000 people in Calaveras County is 2.7, based on a map developed by the Othering & Belonging Institute at University of California, Berkeley released Tuesday.

Also, according to the map, the county falls into a subset of 13 counties across the state whose population is between 30% and 37% residents over the age of 60, a high-risk demographic.

Should there be an influx of severely ill patients, Mark Twain Medical Center is prepared to triage the “most critically ill” patients who need a higher level of care, according to a statement released by the medical center Tuesday.

Patients could also be transferred to sister facilities or other nearby health systems, according to MTMC.

“In anticipation of potential surges, we have identified locations in Mark Twain Medical Center where we could care for patients to avoid exposure to the general patient population and still provide quality care,” the statement reads. “Currently, MTMC has installed an Emergency Department triage tent where we can identify, isolate, and triage patients who have symptoms of infectious disease, including COVID-19 … Any capacity concerns at Mark Twain Medical Center will involve a coordinated effort with our local public health and with other nearby hospitals. We participated in collaborative networks with public health and CDC and other health systems in our community to ensure the patients who need care can get to a facility with capacity.”

Aside from the two existing cases in Copperopolis, approximately 60 county residents have tested negative for the coronavirus.

That said, “we expect more (coronavirus) cases as time goes on,” Kelaita said.

On March 10, the Public Health Department began an investigation into all of the contacts that may have been exposed to the two individuals that tested positive, which includes a student at Copperopolis Elementary School.

Public health disease investigators interviewed more than 60 people, including students, parents, teachers, other school staff and community members looking for signs for infection. Of those interviewed, 13 contacts were identified to be symptomatic and were tested. Results for all 13 came back negative. Strict isolation and quarantine orders were put into place for suspect cases, and no new cases have been connected to transmission in the community surrounding those two cases.

Kelaita said testing remains limited in Calaveras County due to the lack of adequate testing capacity and scarcity of specimen collection supplies.

New guidelines are being distributed to the health care providers Tuesday to test “only those patients at risk for complications from coronavirus infection with positive symptoms” – healthcare workers and those living in congregate living situations, such as nursing home patients and staff or jail residents.

There’s currently no effective treatment or vaccine to prevent infection, and testing has not been widespread or prevalent enough to gauge the “true impact of coronavirus incidents in our population,” Kelaita said.

Additionally, actual local testing numbers are likely higher than existing data indicates, since doctors may send test results to commercial laboratories operating outside the local public health system. Labs are only required to report to the Public Health Department if results come back positive, Kelaita said. The department is working on putting processes in place to collect all testing data for county residents, he added.

“Although we only have two confirmed cases to date in Calaveras County, we expect that there are others in our community with infection that we may not know about at this time,” Kelaita said.

Based on this information, Kelaita recommended the following to the public:

-Those who develop a respiratory illness with a fever should stay home if medical care is not needed. Eighty percent of those with coronavirus infection will develop mild symptoms of illness that resolve on their own without needing medical attention.

-Presenting for testing or for evaluation to the medical system takes time and capacity away from the care system. Personal protective equipment from the health care providers that need to be used to assess patients that may not need medical care are not available for others who may need them more.

-If individuals develop a respiratory illness, they should isolate themselves from others – including the public and other family members – until symptoms resolve.

-Routine over-the-counter medications for cold and flu remedies can help those with symptoms of the illness, including cough and fever. Despite questions that have arisen over the matter, there’s no evidence that ibuprofen is harmful, and it can be used in coronavirus infection for those with fever, along with tylenol and other fever remedies.

-People with high risk for the coronavirus – those over the age of 65 and with chronic medical conditions – should stay at home.

“My biggest message to the public is not to be afraid,” Kelaita said. “Right now life’s been altered, kids aren’t in school, your favorite restaurants are closed, but if we hunker down and protect those at high risk, this will pass. We have a resilient community. I’ve been here since 9/11 … H1N1 influenza. I’ve been here for the Butte Fire, and I’ve seen this community respond miraculously to those impacts. We have a resilient community, and I expect people to continue to cooperate with recommendations to stay home and we’ll get through this together as a community.”

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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