New Bedford Officials, Medical Providers Preparing for Surge in Local Coronavirus Cases
NEW BEDFORD — Two New Bedford residents are under self-quarantine for possible exposure to the coronavirus, Mayor Jon Mitchell said during a press conference Wednesday morning outside City Hall.
Officials said those two individuals are not among the five confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bristol County. On Tuesday, the Town of Freetown announced on its homepage that a town resident had "tested presumptive positive" for COVID-19 and is under quarantine.
The number of positive tests in Bristol County is expected to grow in the coming weeks as more tests become available. Keith Hovan, president and CEO of Southcoast Health System, said there are plans to open drive-thru test centers for the coronavirus in Bristol County as more test kits come online.
“Our hope is tomorrow we’ll be resupplied and be able to open and bring that service live,” said Hovan, who added that Southcoast Health System presently only has about 200 test kits for COVID-19.
The dearth of coronavirus test kits has been a problem across the board in the United States, where the 7,038 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 are believed to represent only a small portion of people who have already been infected.
“It’s no question we were late to ramp up testing in the United States,” said Dr. Dani Hackner, the chief clinical officer for Southcoast Health.
As of Wednesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health had reported 256 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state. About 1,168 individuals in the state are currently under quarantine for possible exposure to the virus.
With COVID-19 tests at a premium, Southcoast Health and local medical providers have been following strict guidelines as to who can be tested, with individuals who display mild or no symptoms of respiratory disease being told to self-quarantine at home.
Southcoast Health System – the largest medical provider in Bristol County – has also been preparing for a possible “surge” in coronavirus patients as more confirmed cases are diagnosed and people vulnerable to the virus’ effects, especially as the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions begin to get really sick.
“We’re ramping up. We’re preparing ourselves for what might come,” said Hovan, who added that Southcoast Health System has been assessing resources, reaching out to recently-retired doctors to have them in a reserve status and stopping all elective medical procedures in order to have enough capacity for a COVID-19 surge.
“For those who do need care, we do not want delays,” Hacker said.
As medical providers brace themselves for a possible wave of coronavirus patients, public health officials and elected leaders are trying to reduce the possibility of new infections by urging people to practice good hygiene and to stay as far away from other people as far as possible.
On Wednesday, Mitchell announced that the city would be closing all public playgrounds and cordoning them off with yellow tape as various studies indicate that the coronavirus can live on some surfaces for hours or days at a time.
“We don’t want kids, students who are out of class for the time being, out there in earnest. It’s not safe for them and their loved ones,” said Mitchell, who also spoke of the financial hardships the pandemic is posing to local businesses and restaurants, many of which will inevitably need to lay off workers.
Asked about the possibility of issuing a “shelter-in-place” order, Mitchell said it was “simply not realistic” because there are “too many important exceptions” that require people to leave their homes, such as getting food and medicine. He also suggested such an order would have wide-ranging effects in that it would virtually shut down the city’s fishing industry, a major national provider of seafood.
“A categorical order is not something here in the city that we’re considering,” Mitchell said.