BOONE — As the number of COVID-19 cases increases each day on local, state, national and global levels, the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, which includes Watauga Medical Center in Boone and Cannon Memorial Hospital in Linville, has plans in place for a possible surge in COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals statewide have been planning for surges since the beginning of the pandemic, and in June the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program released a study that states hospitals in Greenville, Charlotte and Triangle are “most at risk of reaching capacity in the next couple of months. However, it is possible that the constantly ‘shifting winds’ of viral spread could cause currently stable regions, or counties within them, to experience sudden growth requiring rapid mitigation.”

In April, ARHS modified two 20-bed units at Watauga Medical Center into “isolation units” where COVID-19 patients can be treated.

Rob Hudspeth, senior vice president for system advancement for ARHS, said that thus far in the High Country “only a few” COVID-19 patients have required ICU care, and ICU bed availability is fluid.

“There are days when all of the ICU beds are occupied, and some days when none are occupied. (On Aug. 3,) for example we had six patients in the ICU — none of which are related to the treatment of COVID-19,” Hudspeth said.

He also noted that, on Aug. 3, of the hospital’s 117 beds, 52 were occupied.

Regardless, ARHS monitors personal protective equipment utilization “on a daily basis” and has not had “a need to acquire” ventilators in addition to the system’s 26 existing ventilators. However, ARHS has “ensured” that it has access to additional ventilators through state emergency services, if needed.

Hudspeth said that, as of the beginning of August, ARHS doesn’t intend to treat COVID-19 patients at Cannon Memorial Hospital, but instead provide care for COVID-19 patients at Watauga Medical Center.

Additionally, Hudspeth noted that, in the event of a COVID-19 surge, it’s possible that ARHS would utilize retired doctors and nurses to assist with response efforts “if those resources are available.”

Individuals with chronic illnesses or in need of emergency care should not delay visiting a health care facility for medical attention, Hudspeth said.

“We want people to know that we are taking the necessary precautions to keep our patients safe when they are in our facilities. We hope patients keep this in mind — so they do not delay seeking care for medical emergencies,” he said, adding that the longer someone waits to receive care, the more serious an ailment may become.

Hudspeth also encourages community members to practice the “3 Ws” when not at home, wash their hands often, and wear a face covering or mask in public to “protect our families and neighbors … while the virus is still circulating.”

For more information about ARHS and details about its COVID-19 response, visit https://apprhs.org.

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