Emory hospital prepares for ‘super surge’ of COVID-19 patients

Emory’s medical staff is doing what it can to gear up for a “super surge” that’s coming in about three weeks, one of its chief doctors said Friday.

Hospitals across the state are already grappling with a diminishing amount of protective gear for their staffs and bed space for patients sick with COVID-19. Yet the number of patients is expected to keep building toward the “super surge,” as Dr. Colleen Kraft describes it, on April 22, when the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates Georgia hospitals will face a shortage of 755 ICU beds.

“I think a lot of what we are doing — besides just infrastructure, personal protective equipment — is staffing,” said Kraft, associate chief medical officer at the hospital. “And so, we want to make sure that we are are training people, we are re-deploying, and we are making sure everybody has a role, and knows what their role is, as we go into this time.”

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Kraft made her comments during a briefing organized by Emory University Hospital to give the media access to medical experts during the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Georgia will peak on April 23, with an estimated 84 people dying on that day, according to predictions from the IHME.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital and associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine, talks to reporters during a briefing Friday.

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In additional to dwindling resources, Kraft said that she and her colleagues are also dealing with sadness and anxiety.

“We have all, collectively and individually, gone through that grief cycle,” she said. “What I’ve seen, at least personally, is on the days when I’m not feeling best, there’s someone there to lift me up.”

Kraft said access to resources is challenging “every day.” Emory Hospital is most in need of disposable and reusable gowns, and any type of mask.

Georgia Tech, she said, is coming to the aid of Atlanta’s medical community by using 3D printers and laser cutting machines to make protective gear.

Dr. Christopher Saldana, associate professor at Georgia Tech, demonstrates how to use a donated protective mask on Thursday at Emory Hospital in Atlanta. 

Kraft said her hospital is now able to do all of its own, in-house lab work and can turn around diagnostic test results in 24 hours. The staff is prioritizing testing for patients admitted into the hospital through the emergency room and for employees with symptoms, she said.

In this file photo, Dr. Colleen Kraft gives Dr. Kent Brantly a hug as he takes the stage to talk with the media on the fifth anniversary of Dr. Brantly’s arrival at Emory University Hospital as the first patient with Ebola virus disease to be treated in the U.S. Kraft was part the university hospital’s Ebola treatment team.robert.andres@ajc.com

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Kraft, who was part the university hospital’s Ebola treatment team in 2014, said Emory’s staff is doing what it can to free up bed space in preparation for the coming surge.

About half of the patients who come into the emergency departments at Emory hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms are going into the intensive care unit, she said. “We are seeing quite a lot of pneumonia.”