Prince George's County officials are preparing for an "upcoming surge" in hospital visits over the next few weeks as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow in Maryland's hardest-hit area, particularly among the black community.
The county is preparing for "a surge in the next couple of weeks" by making more hospital beds available, Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a press conference Thursday. But concerns remain over the ability to meet the need for critical care in intensive care units and with ventilators, health officials said.
With 1,476 confirmed diagnoses as of Thursday, Prince George's has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus patients out of all reporting districts in the state. Montgomery County, the state's most populous, has the second-highest number with 1,214 cases.
The disease has also infected at least one person in at least 12 of the county's 20 nursing homes, Alsobrooks said.
"This for us is a personal fight," Alsobrooks said. “We are not talking about numbers, we are talking about lives”
With testing ramping up and case numbers rising every day, Alsobrooks shared how the county is preparing for an influx of hospital patients.
The county has increased acute and ICU hospital bed capacity by 170 already and has another 479 beds in progress through a partnership with the state, health officials said.
Prince George's County was estimated to have about 670 acute care beds before the coronavirus crisis began, compared to Montgomery County's 1,286.
But critical care beds are an area of high concern as those most severely affected by coronavirus need breathing support, said Joseph Wright, interim President and CEO of UM Capital Region Health.
UM Prince George's Hospital Center says it's treating 53 coronavirus patients, 18 of whom are in the intensive care unit. Seventeen are intubated and breathing on a ventilator, Wright said.
Laurel Hospital Center is set to get 135 beds by April 20. Ten are critical care beds, Wright said.
Additionally, the Sports and Learning Complex in Landover is being eyed as a possible site for a treatment site.
University of Washington researchers have estimated Maryland as a whole could be short hundreds of beds at the peak of the crisis. Concerned that the need for hospital beds will outpace supply, the governor last month ordered officials to open up 6,000 more hospital beds statewide.
Gov. Larry Hogan this week said the White House had designated the D.C.-Baltimore area as an "emerging hot spot" for infections. Hogan flagged 11 Maryland counties in particular, including Montgomery and Prince George's.
Officials say the designation will allow more resources to flow to areas of need.
First responders, including firefighters, paramedics and police officers, may begin cross-training to ensure every role can be filled in case of emergencies, officials said.
African-Americans and people of color are disproportionately affected by the virus in the county, Alsobrooks said. She said 78% of people hospitalized are black.
She said the county expected such a disparity. African-American communities and communities of color are more affected by preexisting conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, that make it harder to recover from coronavirus.
About 62% of Prince George's County residents are black, and about 17% are white, the health department estimates.
Prince George's Residents Encouraged to Protect Themselves
Alsobrooks pleaded with residents of the county to heed stay-at-home orders, even with the Easter holiday coming up this weekend.
The county is encouraging all residents to wear masks to protect against the spread of germs.
There are also several testing sites available, including in the parking lot of FedExField. At most testing sites throughout the D.C. area, you must meet diagnostic criteria for coronavirus and get a doctor's recommendation to get tested.
She encouraged everyone, regardless of immigration status or ability to pay, to reach out for health help. The county's coronavirus hotline, which can connect people with a telehealth screening and coronavirus testing if necessary, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.: 301-883-6627.
Thirty-five people in Prince George's County have died from coronavirus.
How Long Until Coronavirus Will Cause Peak Hospital Use Across the Country
This interactive chart uses model data provided by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to predict how the coronavirus will affect health care resources in different states. The maximum hospital bed use in some states, such as New York, has already passed while in others it is weeks away. Most states have enough general hospital and ICU beds to meet demand, according to additional data from The Associated Press.
Sources: State hospital bed capacity data from the Associated Press. Model data provided by IHME. Note: The model assumes full social distancing through May 2020.
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC
Stream Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrook's news conference on this page at 12 p.m.