Peak of coronavirus crisis might not hit here until late spring, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital leaders say

Lancaster County could still be six to 10 weeks away from the peak impact of the coronavirus crisis, leaders of the county’s largest hospital system said Thursday.

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital officials didn’t specify how many COVID-19 cases or patients they anticipate at the potential peak in mid-May to Mid-June. But their projection is the first public estimate of when the worst of the outbreak could arrive here.

They urged residents to strictly adhere to social distancing to help prevent the crisis from overwhelming the local health care system.

In addition to speaking with officials from Lancaster General Health, which operates the county’s largest hospital, LNP|LancasterOnline gathered information from the three other local health systemsUPMC PinnacleWellSpan Health and Penn State Health — and will publish those updates soon.

Here are three takeaways from Penn Medicine Lancaster General hospital, from president and CEO Jan Bergen and chief clinical officer Dr. Michael Ripchinski.

Don’t be complacent

Bergen and Ripchinski warned that a lot more Lancaster County residents are likely infected now than the official numbers show.

What has happened in New York and other places, they said, shows how the virus gathers steam while levels seem low and then suddenly cases start doubling every couple of days, growing exponentially.

They’re expecting a surge could hit here within three weeks, with potential peak impact from mid-May to mid-June, and making extensive preparations that LNP|LancasterOnline will report later.

Bergen said it’s absolutely essential that people practice social distancing “very seriously,” because if they don’t, “We will find ourselves in a situation that the demand for health care service is outstripping what we can provide.”

By the numbers

As of Thursday, there were 27 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, of which 10 were in the intensive care unit and six were on ventilators.

The system has swabbed more than 2,500 people for testing so far, with 168 cases confirmed.

Testing updates

As of Wednesday, the hospital now has the ability to do in-house, same-day tests, which leaders said reflects being part of the larger Penn Medicine organization.

That capacity is limited to about 200 patients every 10 days, so priority’s given to patients in the hospital as part of an effort to minimize exposure.

Tests for most of the people the system swabs here is still going through commercial labs. That had been taking well over a week due to backlogs like those reported across the nation, but is now down to six days and leaders said they think turnaround time will continue to get faster. There are 800 to 900 tests pending.

The system is working on a second swabbing site to be opened in Lancaster city.