UPMC Dr. Donald Yealy: "We understand fatigue, but we must caution everyone, stay vigilant."By Amy Wadas

By: KDKA-TV News Staff

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The fall surge is here. Local and statewide COVID numbers continue to rise to record levels, concerning hospitals in our area.

How are they preparing for a possibly lengthy surge as we head into the colder months?

UPMC is encouraging people to keep up with daily hygiene routines – like social distancing, thorough hand-washing and mask wearing in public places – as coronavirus cases rise across the region.

“We understand fatigue, but we must caution everyone, stay vigilant,” Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC senior medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, said.

Doctors within the UPMC system held a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss coronavirus pandemic preparedness.

During the briefing, the doctors reported seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases in its Altoona and Western Maryland facilities.

As for the immediate Western Pennsylvania area, UPMC officials say on Tuesday we hit the same seven-day average as we had in July.

They also expect to see a continued rise as the holidays approach, and urged people to take caution.

“We are asking everybody to change their behavior over the holiday season,” said Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz, the chief medical officer of the UPMC ICU Service Center. “It is important for all of us to modify how we celebrate now so we can be together with our extended family in the future.”

The health system says so far it’s only using 7% of its total in-patient capacity for coronavirus treatment. They also say ICU stays and ventilator use have dropped by 50% compared to the spring.

The doctors are urging everyone to keep up with mask wearing. They say studies are showing the importance of them with virus exposure.

They are also asking people to “keep yourself healthy,” which means getting the flu shot and keeping up with your health care visits.

KDKA spoke to several doctors Wednesday, including one at St. Clair Hospital in Scott Township. He emphasized that the hospital has more COVID cases now than it did a few weeks ago, but he’s not yet worried about reaching capacity.

“We have a moderate number, but not at our peak,” said St. Clair Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Sullivan.

Dr. Sullivan said the 329-bed St. Clair Hospital is ready.

“We have the ability to increase the number of hospitalized beds to dedicate to COVID, both in terms of ICU and non-ICU,” said Sullivan, like adding extra beds in recovery rooms or even the ER. This is a plan that the hospital has been working on for months.

“In all of our hospitals combined we are up to 106 today, which is significantly higher than last week,” said AHN Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald Whiting.

Dr. Whiting said not as many of those patients are as sick as they were in the beginning of the pandemic.

While reaching capacity isn’t a concern for these doctors right now, they’re reminding people to continue to wear your mask, social distance and wash your hands regularly.