The Richmond Times-Dispatch is getting frustrated with the lack of hard information about the COVID-19 epidemic forthcoming from the Northam administration. Reporter Bridget Balch has been trying to track down data on the number of ventilators in the state to treat patients stricken with respiratory afflictions. Frustration with the Northam administration’s lack of responsiveness is leaking into her news coverage.
Virginia, with a population of 8.6 million, has 2,000 ventilators on hand, Balch quotes Cotton Puryear, spokesman for the Virginia COVID-19 Unified Command Joint Information Center, as saying Friday. That’s the first time I’ve seen that number. Balch’s article pointedly says that the newspaper had been asking for the number since March 16.
Virginia public health authorities have not released any own internal forecasts of expected demand for ventilators, But the state has requested an additional 350 ventilators from the national stockpile, Puryear said.
Also, regional groups comprising the Virginia Healthcare Management Program “have ventilators that can be deployed to hospitals,” said Julian Walker, spokesman for the Virginia Hospitals and Healthcare Association in a statement. But is not clear if those ventilators are included in, or in addition to, Puryear’s 2,000-ventilator number.
While state officials say they are planning for the epidemic peak, writes Balch, “they have kept those plans mostly under wraps.”
While other state officials, like those in New York, have publicly discussed projections of how many intensive care beds and ventilators will be needed depending on how many people are infected by the virus, Virginia has not released that information.
In news briefings, Northam and Health Secretary Daniel Carey have stopped short of giving specific numbers on current available resources or projections, instead saying that state officials are in the process of planning ….
At Friday’s briefing, Carey addressed questions from reporters about bed capacity and projections, saying that state officials are aware of different projections and are involved in helping health systems implement their emergency plans and working to call in backup from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia National Guard.
Balch notes that the state still does not have its own epidemiological model to help with decision-making. She quotes projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, based in the University of Washington in Seattle, which suggests that Virginia will need 512 intensive care units beds — 183 more than the 329 predicted to be available — when the virus peaks in the state on May 2. If the administration has its own estimates, it has not made them public.
State epidemiologist Lilian Peak has said that state officials are, in Balch’s words, “looking to different entities, such as the University of Virginia and individual hospital systems, that are doing scientific modeling to project possible numbers of infected people and needed resource, but that the state does not have one model it’s relying on.”
Presumably, Peake is referring to an initiative of the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute, which, according to UVAToday, is “using powerful computing resources for studying and understanding the spread of infectious diseases.” Said Madhav Marathe, a professor of computer science and biocomplexity:
We also are using our computer expertise and artificial intelligence capabilities to develop epidemic dynamics simulations and decision-support tools for planning and response. Much of this involves curating, synthesizing, wrangling and organizing data for use by the larger academic community to further develop models and decision-support tools.
The UVAToday article did not say if the Institute’s model generated data that would be of use to state health officials. At the time of the article’s publication, March 2, the Institute appeared to have global focus. Said Marathe: “Through our dashboards, we have curated multiple data sources to provide global and detailed perspectives into the confirmed cases.”
If the Institute has generated any Virginia-specific forecasts, it has yet to release them.
Bacon’s bottom line: Either state officials in charge of the COVID-19 response still lack basic information about the health system’s capacity to treat victims of the virus or they aren’t willing to share the information. Neither is acceptable. Kudos to Balch for pushing hard on the Northam administration. The media need to push even harder.There are currently no comments highlighted.