ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Health officials expect coronavirus cases will climb in the Lehigh Valley in the next two to three weeks.
As the nation watches the pandemic evolve in other parts of the world, and elsewhere in this country, hospitals here are ramping up their preparation.
On Thursday, the CEO of St. Luke's University Health Network shared some of the hospital's ongoing plans and preparations with 69 News.
"We're prepared, we've had over two and a half weeks to get ready. We have a great culture and people to get through this," said Rick Anderson. "We are prepared, we are ready, we are trained, we are equipped and we are calm, cool, collected. We are not panicked and we will do the right things for our patients."
Anderson said preparations and planning continues to evolve, and communication within the network is constant.
"We have a command center that talks every day," Anderson said. "Every day a new idea comes in. Where do you get hand sanitizer, masks, N-95 masks. What do you do if an employee gets the COVID-19 disease?"
Anderson said all workers in patient areas are wearing masks.
"If we keep our employees safe we know they can do this job," Anderson said, adding that the hospital is focused on making sure those on the front lines have Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). There's been a national shortage of some of that gear.
There's also been shortages of ventilators. In Italy, physicians were tasked with deciding who would get the potentially life-saving equipment, and who wouldn't because there weren't enough to go around.
"This COVID-19 issue is very difficult to predict," Anderson said. "We don't know how many we'll need, we know we have access to getting ventilators and we have more than we've ever had. Right now our capacity is just fine, we are not overwhelmed."
The network has about 1,100 available beds, and potential alternative locations to add more.
"If we get this huge surge, nobody in the Valley will have enough beds to handle this surge."
Anderson added that keeping Easton Hospital open for at least the next month will help.
"We'll have that in reserve, that's probably about 250 or 300 beds."
Local colleges and hotels have also offered their space for beds, if necessary.
"That's really nice, but the most important thing we have are our nurses and other caregivers," Anderson said. "We have plenty of space we just may not have enough caregivers."
That's why making sure caregivers are healthy is so critical.
"Our infectious disease department communicates with them every day about masks, protection, social distancing, washing your hands, protecting your loved ones, staying socially isolated," Anderson said.
There's also the option for the network to bring in students from its medical school. There are more than 100 students in the program, and nearly 30 of them are set to graduate soon.
Hospitals in other areas have also brought in retired healthcare professionals to help.
"We have absolutely considered that as an opportunity for those people to return, but we haven't done anything about it yet, because as I said earlier, this virus is so unpredictable. I think the best thing we can do is stay agile," Anderson said.
Though, those retired may fall into age brackets that are more at risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus.
"We certainly would have to explain the risks to them, I think most of them would understand it. We would not necessarily expose them to that personal risk," Anderson said