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‘It’s the real deal’

LIJ Valley Stream confirms six coronavirus cases, readies for more

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Long Island Jewish Valley Stream says it has six confirmed cases of coronavirus, with more expected on the way, according to Dr. Salvatore Pardo chairman of emergency medicine, as the hospital braces for a flood of new patients.

It is a dramatic departure from a month ago, when the Herald last spoke to him about the hospital’s procedures should a case of the COVID-19 virus strain come through its doors. Then, the attention was on preventing its spread into the United States from overseas.

“The situation has changed,” he said.”We’re no longer focusing on people who have travelled.”

All staff as well as patients are now required to wear surgical masks, and already they have been asked to ration the use of the N95 surgical mask, which offer some of the best protection against infection, even reusing them in some cases as health experts say medical supply chains are stretched thin, and as the outbreak is expected to continue in the United States for an extended period of time.

“We’re making sure that people understand that this is a long journey,” Pardo said, “and that we anticipate that we’ll need to worry about having masks not just today, but also masks weeks down the road, maybe months.”

The hospital has cancelled elective surgeries to free up beds, which can then be used for intensive care purposes should the need arise. LIJ is currently licensed for 284 beds. 

Additionally, as a member of the Northwell Health network, which comprises 23 hospitals across the New York state, Pardo said LIJ would rely on hospitals in the network with fewer coronavirus cases for equipment such as ventilators — devices that can mean the difference between life and death for patients suffering from the most serious respiratory effects of the disease.

Regarding staff morale, Pardo said anxiety was high, and that there were daily meetings with them to address their concerns and fears, particularly in light of a news media cycle that has become increasingly grim by the day. 

“We want them to be safe,” he said of the hospital staff, “so we take a lot of care to achieve that.”

As of today, New York announced it has 4,152 confirmed coronavirus cases, by far the most in the country, up roughly 1,700 from yesterday. In Nassau, County Executive Laura Curran announced this morning that it currently has 293 reported cases, and that a third person had died from the outbreak. 

Testing for the virus remains limited, with a drive-through testing site at Jones Beach available only for those showing symptoms such as a fever and who have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive, according to County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eistenstein. 

The New York State Department of Health hotline — (888) 364-3065 — is the only way to get an appointment for testing at the Jones Beach testing site, Eisenstein said. It is open 24 hours, seven days a week.

In light of that invisible risk, Pardo said it was incumbent on the general public to stop the spread of the disease. Transmission between patients and hospital staff has been rare, he said, with the majority of cases being spread through social interactions in the community. 

“I want to stress the importance of the kinds of instructions that are out there,” he said, noting the practices of social distancing and frequent handwashing. “Just because you feel well doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. The public needs to do their part to stop this spread.

“It’s out there,” he continued. “ … It’s affecting people of all ages. It’s the real deal so we’ve got to be careful. Our opportunity to make a difference is now.” 

-Andrew Garcia and Scott Brinton contributed to this story.