Lehigh Valley Health Network's CEO says the hospital system is preparing for and paying attention to coronavirus outbreaks in other communities as it prepares for a possible surge of cases locally.

Dr. Brian Nester sat down with WFMZ's Jamie Stover in a virtual interview, to discuss some of the planning and challenges related to combating COVID-19.

The supply of life-saving equipment, including ventilators, has been a focus and bit of a challenge for hospitals nationwide. All are trying to avoid a situation similar to Italy, where there were more patients than ventilators at a time, and doctors were tasked with choosing who got one and who didn't.

"At the moment we have what we believe is enough ventilators. Two weeks ago, we put together a surge plan that identified every single ventilator, and took an inventory," Nester said. "We have several hundred ventilators available to us and in recent times have purchased about two dozen, and have another two dozen on lease."

Nester said the network is also working to make sure that medications that may aid in treating those with COVID-19 are available.

Nester said he believes the Lehigh Valley may be about two weeks, as far as timeline goes, behind New York City. He said in the next several weeks, the area will have a better sense of the trajectory of cases.

In the meantime, the hospital has started brainstorming ideas for worst-case scenarios, including needing more beds. While some have freed up because elective surgeries have been postponed, the network has identified additional spaces as a backup plan.

"We are already considering alternative locations like empty warehouses, empty buildings that could be converted into lower level, hospital-like facilities. That real estate analysis is already in the works," Nester said.

As part of that plan, flagship locations, like Lehigh Valley Cedar Crest, would be focused on the more seriously and critically ill.

Additionally, the hospital has looked at having healthcare professionals be on "standby," or on the bench, so to speak. That way, if workers become sick with the disease themselves, there would be additional teams ready to step in.

The area has started testing more and more people for COVID-19, though only those with symptoms, and getting those results has been tricky.

It can take up to 7 or 8 days to get those results.

"The most miserable topic to talk about, frankly. It's been an abject failure unfortunately in the country in the early days of this which have sharply disabled rational and strategic containment measures," Nester said. "I'm optimistic in the next month to two months, testing will improve and help dampen that curve we've talked about."

Nester said physicians are still giving people similar instructions for care while they're awaiting results. He said the network is in the process of getting rapid testing available too.

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