Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, speaks about Covid-19 during a media briefing at the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)
Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, speaks about Covid-19 during a media briefing at the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health expects to see exponential growth in Covid-19 cases in the next couple of weeks, and is preparing accordingly.

Already, because of the burden of coronavirus care, the health system has had a reduction in the number of elective surgeries it is performing, Dr. Michael Ripchinski told the Lancaster County commissioners at a work session Tuesday morning.

As of Tuesday, Lancaster General Hospital had 97 Covid-19 inpatients, up from 59 two weeks earlier and 31 two weeks before that.

Ripchinski, who is LG Health's chief clinical officer, said he's worried at the prospect that LG Health might have to suspend elective surgery entirely. The state required health systems to do so this spring, and there were adverse health impacts, he said.

This time around, the state is giving health systems leeway to adjust their elective surgery schedules as they see fit, based on their local circumstances.

Maintaining staffing during the pandemic has been challenging, Ripchinski said. Work-related Covid-19 cases among LG Health employees have been few and far between, he said, he said, but individuals are liable to community exposure, and may need to isolate or quarantine as a result.

Personnel have been incentivized to work extra shifts, but that's not sustainable long-term, he said.

LG Health will have access to outside assistance if it needs it. LG Health, the Department of Health, county governments and peer health systems have all been discussing how to pool resources on a regional basis in order to handle high Covid-19 case loads.

State officials have warned for weeks of the danger of uncontrolled coronavirus spread and the possibility of a post-Thanksgiving surge.

Projections show Pennsylvania will run out of ICU beds in December, if current trends continue, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said earlier this month.

Ripchinski said he's most concerned by Lancaster County's 12.7% test positivity rate. That's higher than its peer counties and Pennsylvania as a whole, and is indicative of rapid community spread.

Chester County's test positivity, in contrast, is a much better 7.8%. Ripchinski said he's in contact with the chief medical officer at Penn Medicine Chester County Hospital to look at ways of controlling the outbreak here and bringing Lancaster County's rates down.

By the numbers: Covid-19 in Lancaster County

  • New cases (Dec. 1): 310
  • Total cases: 17,012
  • Inpatients:
    • LGH: 97
    • WellSpan Ephrata: 30
    • TOTAL: 127
Tim Stuhldreher