WEST READING, Pa. - Health experts in Berks County are continuing to watch COVID-19 numbers climb, as Pennsylvania health officials said the cases are starting to become overwhelming.

"Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve to sustain the health system for both COVID and non-COVID emergencies," said Dr. Rachel Levine, the state's health secretary.

Locally, Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Bern Township is reporting 18 confirmed COVID-19 patients being hospitalized, with seven of them in critical care and three on ventilators.

Reading Hospital said it's also seeing an increase in coronavirus patients.

"We've been seeing about 70 patients a day currently in house, and about six of them are in the ICU," said Dr. Debra Powell, the hospital's director of infectious disease.

Reading Hospital said it does have enough ventilators and space in the ICU now, but officials have regular meetings to prepare for those cases to get even higher.

"We're looking at expansion to areas of the hospital that we haven't been using," Powell said, "and also, we have a prior psychiatry unit, the Spruce pavilion that's currently, that has 40 beds that we could expand into that footprint, too."

The hospitals are also stockpiling personal protective equipment (PPE), have more rapid testing, and are looking at ways to increase staffing. State health officials also urge putting off elective surgeries at this time.

"This is the biggest public health crisis that we have seen in 102 years," Levine said. "If you look at the IHME (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) model, it's anticipating we could have 12,000 deaths by January and 18,000 by March."

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