Hospitals in New Jersey hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic are bracing for a surge in patients needing critical care as the number of confirmed cases in the state reaches almost 9,000.
Doctors and nurses say they are already running low on N95 masks, gowns and other protective personal equipment known as "PPE." They're also facing potential staffing shortages and need more intensive care beds.
New Jersey has the second highest number of cases in the country after New York. At least 2,000 people are hospitalized in New Jersey; another 108 people have died.
"It's the numbers that are going to kill us," said Sue Scaglione, a per diem nurse at Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel. "We're going to have too many people in need of high-level nursing care and medical care and not enough people to fill those roles."
The hardest hit counties in New Jersey along the northern end could see the highest number of COVID-19 patients as early as three weeks from now. State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli says that's different from when hospitals can expect to see a surge — an influx of people needing hospitalization. Persichilli has ordered every hospital to double the number of critical care beds to prepare.
For some hospitals, people needing intensive care is already on the rise.
"We have the sickest patients because it hit here first," said Dr. Adam Jarrett, chief medical officer at Holy Name Medical Center in Bergen County. "Within two or three days of the start of this, it became one big giant tidal wave that has not let up."
Holy Name in Teaneck is at the center of the state's crisis. Bergen County — just across the Hudson River from New York City — has 1,500 cases, the most in the state.
New Jersey has asked the federal government for 2,300 ventilators and Persichilli says the state needs another 2,000 ICU beds. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will help build four pop-up hospitals. The first will open in a week.
Dr. Mark Einstein from University Hospital in Newark said he's planning for the surge and also for worst-case scenarios.
"We have a lot of plans in place for how we're going to be ethically deciding some decisions between bad and worse if we have more patients than we have the capabilities of being able to manage," he said.