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Urgency on virus needs turned up

Honoring veterans was a top agenda item on Wednesday but so were the words “enough capacity,” and for good reason.

Unfortunately, judging from developments on the coronavirus in recent days, those words are destined to be front and center indefinitely.

Officials and the public in general need to accept the seriousness of the situation and accept a degree of personal responsibility toward trying to bring the pandemic under control.

The gravity of the current situation confirms that task won’t be easy.

Enough capacity: UPMC revealed on Wednesday that, despite “disproportionate” growth in COVID-19 activity, the hospital system’s flexibility and sharing of resources has ensured that none of its four hospitals in this part of the state — Altoona, Bedford Memorial, Somerset and Western Maryland — were overwhelmed at this time.

Dr. Donald Yealy, chairman of UPMC’s Department of Emergency Medicine, acknowledged there were high levels of both coronavirus and other patients in those hospitals but that they were “not beyond capacity.”

Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz, chief medical officer at the UPMC ICU Service Center, noted the contacts between local hospital leaders “multiple times a day” and indicated UPMC’s current COVID-19 experience was confirming the benefit of a large health system with multiple resources.

But in the far eastern edge of the state, discussion dealing with “enough capacity” might have been a harbinger of things to come with Pennsylvania continuing to set new one-day records for new cases. In the Philadelphia area, a major local medical authority, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab, was recommending that schools in that area go fully virtual amid record coronavirus spikes.

According to a report on Philadelphia station WHYY, PolicyLab indicated its epidemiological models were calling for beefed-up caution and researchers had concluded that by Monday all public, private and parochial schools should be conducting classes remotely and remain remote through the winter holidays.

“This is about ensuring that we have enough capacity in our hospitals to get through the holiday season,” said David Rubin, the doctor who heads PolicyLab.

He said it was his belief that the worst of the pandemic “is upon us.”

That is the challenge facing all of the counties of the Southern Alleghenies region, as well as adjacent counties and those beyond.

The fact that area counties are recording coronavirus deaths more frequently now does not portend optimism about the immediate future. On Wednesday, Bedford and Cambria counties each reported two new deaths while Blair, Centre and Clearfield each reported one.

There have been more than 9,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Pennsylvania so far, while the total number of cases was hovering near 250,000.

It is not too early for families here to consider seriously how they can adjust their activities during the coming holidays in response to the pandemic. Health officials do not hold back saying that Thanksgiving and Christmas are major illness-transmission events, even without COVID-19 holding center stage, and in urging common-sense precautions.

At the center of all that, though, is the importance of having enough capacity for whatever treatment challenges are forthcoming.

Everyone has an important responsibility in that regard, the first step being to cast aside foolish attitudes and actions that might trigger a capacity crisis.

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