Bergen County COVID-19 hospitalizations drop

It was a tearful clap out for Union City officer Octavio Robles on Tuesday. He spent more than three weeks at Holy Name Medical Center recovering from the coronavirus. He thinks he contracted it giving his mother CPR when she stopped breathing with what she thought was the flu. She has since passed away. Robles’ exit got a hero’s welcome.

“When Octavio went into the hospital, honestly, we weren’t hopeful initially. I can’t tell you how relieved and grateful everybody is today. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you,” said Union City Police Department Chief Nichelle Luster.

Robles’ discharge is among the big drop in COVID-hospitalizations in Bergen County’s medical centers.

“We feel a little more distant from that acute phase. We still know it’s out there, we still know we’ll see patients with it, but every day with less and less admissions and more and more discharges we’re feeling more comfortable with the new normal,” said Holy Name Medical Center Nursing Operations Director Michele Acito.

Holy Name is down to 40 patients, from a daily peak of 50 new patients, and it’s reduced its number of COVID-care units.

“If they need to come to the hospital to the emergency room, or they need to go to their physicians, or come to the hospital for testing or procedures, we are getting to the point where we can do that now,” said Dr. Adam Jarrett, Holy Name Medical Center chief medical officer.

As COVID care has declined at Holy Name, the hospital has established a new set of protocols for non-COVID care.

“We’ve changed much of our registration process. All, if not much, can be done online or on the phone. We are pre-registering patients outside the hospital. We are asking patients when they get here to stay in their car and they’ll be called into the hospital when we’re ready for them. They’ll be asked to wear a mask; if they don’t come with one, we will provide one for them,” Jarrett said. “I think this is the new normal until we have that magical vaccine. We’re expecting to be in this phase for a good year, if not longer.”

At Hackensack Meridian Health System’s hospitals, COVID-positive hospitalizations have fallen by two-thirds from their peak of nearly 3,000, but that’s no reason to take the foot off the pedal, says the doctor who kept Dallas’ Ebola outbreak to three patients.

“We are testing a 100% of the patients that come in to the hospital,” said Dr. Daniel Varga, chief physician executive at Hackensack Meridian Health.

Varga says that testing started Tuesday, and 5% of those who are asymptomatic are COVID-positive. Some go home to quarantine and monitoring. Severe patients are admitted to COVID-care. The other 95% can go back to areas described as decommissioned, or reconverted from COVID care, sterilized and tested.

“You can’t say they’re COVID-free, but they certainly test negative for COVID. Hopefully, that creates a much safer environment,” Varga said.

But he says a survey shows why non-COVID trips to the Hackensack University Medical Center’s emergency room are half of normal for May.

“Folks out in the community are scared to come to the hospital,” he said.

Varga says as an added measure of confidence boosting, Hackensack Meridian Health will begin COVID-testing all medical staff next week.