UPDATE 1:04 p.m.: Following Gov. Ralph Northam’s declaration of Emergency Order 84 to help Virginia hospitals tackle the rising number of patients during the latest COVID-19 surge, Centra Health officials discussed ways community members can help combat the current strain on hospitals’ resources.

According to Dr. Chris Lewis, the senior vice president and chief clinical officer for Centra, Lynchburg General Hospital and Virginia Baptist Hospital have surpassed their previous record for the largest number of coronavirus patients — which was 131 patients in January 2021 — as of Tuesday, even though Centra has tried to offload some of those patients to the Bedford and Southside hospitals.

More specifically, Centra officials say there are 133 COVID-19 patients at Lynchburg General Hospital and Virginia Baptist Hospital, including 20 in the ICU, 11 of whom are currently on ventilators; 14 at Southside Community Hospital; and four at Bedford Memorial Hospital. Of those 151 total patients, 115 — over 76 percent — are unvaccinated.

Health experts continue to urge people to get their vaccines and their booster dose, citing the significantly smaller number of vaccinated people who end up hospitalized because of the coronavirus compared to those who are unvaccinated.

In addition, while Centra hospitals saw a total of 87 virus-related deaths during the month of January in 2021, there have been 27 so far in 2022, health officials say.

Meanwhile, Centra continues to evaluate surgeries for those that are absolutely necessary, looking at their resource requirements to minimize the strain on the hospital system, according to Lewis.

Lewis says one key challenge is that caregivers live in the communities where COVID-19 outbreaks are happening and, as a result, are also getting sick. While there are no critically-ill employees at this time, they are sick enough that they cannot work for some time.

Even though Lewis did not disclose the exact number of Centra employees who are currently infected with the virus, he says they are already on track to beat the peak of employee cases from October 2021 that resulted from the delta variant.

Lewis says regional nursing facilities are also dealing with the impacts of outbreaks and staffing challenges, which can block those facilities from accepting patients when Centra is ready to discharge them, preventing Centra from freeing up hospital beds to care for new patients.

In addition, as hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, this directly impacts Centra’s emergency rooms, which are experiencing significant boarding problems where patients are waiting on beds in the hospital, but cannot be placed because hospitals are full.

In the words of Dr. Matt Foster, Centra’s senior vice president and chief physician executive, “This is a sense of urgency that we haven’t felt before.”

Foster urges people not to come to the emergency department to be tested for COVID-19 or be treated for illnesses or injuries that could be handled by a primary care or urgent care provider.

Not only does this strain hospital resources like beds and personnel, but it also creates a domino effect, eventually increasing ER wait times for people who need that level of care, Foster says.

Centra officials say that the longest wait time in the hospital waiting room is about eight hours, but the longest wait time in the emergency department is about 30 hours.

According to Dr. Caesar Gonzales, vice president of medical affairs for Centra, the Bedford Memorial Hospital ER saw about 100 patients in a single day recently, but about 50 of them were just seeking coronavirus tests.

For more information about COVID-19 testing opportunities provided by Centra Health and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) — as well as nearby vaccination sites — click here.

In order to make sure people who come to the emergency department receive the care they need, Foster says Centra caregivers are working extra shifts, working longer hours, and being pulled in across the continuum of care.

“January is going to be a very, very tough month. There’s just no way to say it less blunt than that,” stated Lewis. “Omicron is almost certainly driving this surge that we’re currently experiencing. We’ve seen it play out in other communities and other countries where you see a very swift upstroke or a very fast surge of increasing COVID, which we’ve certainly experienced in our community. There is evidence, though, that on the other side of it, it leaves the community fairly rapidly, as well.”

According to Lewis, it will take united efforts of community and hospitals to get through this surge as they have in the past. Lewis also says he hopes this surge will be the last stretch of the pandemic.

In addition, Foster says that the collective actions over the next few weeks — such as getting the vaccines and the booster, wearing high-quality masks, staying home if you feel sick, etc. — will prevent the local, state, and national healthcare system from sliding into an unprecedented crisis.

As for Northam’s emergency order, Dr. Michael Elliot, Centra’s chief transformation officer, says this gives hospitals more flexibility to carry out certain processes, such as shortening the process to increase the number of licensed beds, allowing certain healthcare professionals licensed outside of Virginia to practice in the Commonwealth, and more.

“This is an all hands on deck situation right now, so we’re very thankful for being able to get that limited state of emergency in place,” Elliot said.

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Just one week after announcing new hospital visitation guidelines amid the recent rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Centra Health plans to hold a Tuesday afternoon news conference about the pandemic.

You can watch Centra’s briefing here at WFXRtv.com, on the WFXR News Facebook page, or on the WFXR News app starting at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 11

As of 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Centra’s coronavirus dashboard says there are 151 COVID-19 patients at Lynchburg, Bedford, and Southside hospitals.

Of those 151 patients, health officials say 115 are unvaccinated — including 13 of the 20 patients in the ICU — and 36 are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Centra is offering coronavirus testing clinics at the CMG Lynchburg Family Medical Residency over the next few weeks:

  • 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 12; Wednesday, Jan. 19; and Wednesday, Jan. 26
  • 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15; Saturday, Jan. 22; and Saturday, Jan. 29

For more information about COVID-19 testing opportunities with Centra Health — as well as nearby vaccination sites — click here.