Inside ECMC as COVID hospitalizations spike across Western New York

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – While COVID-19 hospitalizations in Western New York increased nearly 400% through the month of November, the number of patients requiring an ICU bed increased at a slower rate.

At month’s end, 432 people with COVID-19 were in a hospital bed in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, or Allegany County. Seventy-seven of them were in an ICU bed, or about 18%. At times in the spring, more than half of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized were in the ICU. On April 9th, for example, 55% of them were in intensive care.

“When we first started seeing the virus in March and April, a lot of the patients required ICU-level care right off the get go,” said Dr. Samuel Cloud, Associate Medical Director at ECMC. Cloud is also an attending physician in the Emergency Department.

So what changed? Cloud said the science hasn’t given doctor’s a proven answer. But science and experience has helped guide doctors in tailoring their treatment as time has passed in 2020.

“We have 40-50 years of research and evidence about who to put on a ventilator when they have a lung infection,” said Dr. Cloud. “That evidence has been accumulative and has shown a clear path towards when a patient is really struggling to breathe, they do better on a ventilator.

“This virus seems to throw that playbook out the window a little bit.”

Instead, Cloud says they try to avoid putting a patient on a ventilator unless they really have to. He called oxygen the number one treatment.

“Beyond oxygen, we also give patients whose lungs are hurting a bit, we give them steroids,” Cloud said. “We have the drug Remdesivir. We also have something called convalescent plasma. That’s plasma that contains antibodies given by people who have had COVID-19 already.”

Throughout November, the coronavirus spread quickly across Western New York. Hospitalizations increased 380% throughout the month, based on an analysis of state data. The number of COVID-19 patients in the ICU increased 285%.

However, the average length of stay for patients has decreased. Cloud says in the spring, a COVID patient would spend an average of 21 days in the hospital. Now, he says about half of their patients leave within four-to-six days.

“The hospital would look very different today if we saw the same pattern as we saw back in the spring,” Cloud said.

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered hospitals across New York State to initiate emergency procedures. They are required to identify retired nurses and doctors to help with staffing and plan to add 50% to bed capacity.

Elective surgeries in Erie County will stop on Friday, Cuomo has announced.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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