Will Lebanon County have enough hospital beds and ventilators if coronavirus cases keep escalating?
The answer is probably no, according to Bob Dowd, the county’s Director of Emergency Services.
Dowd participated in a teleconference meeting with the county commissioners that was convened Thursday morning. The meeting was held using Zoom, a first for the county.
Dowd and Chairman Bob Phillips participated in the long-distance meeting by way of the commissioners’ meeting room, while commissioners Jo Ellen Litz and Bill Ames joined the meeting from their homes.
As of the morning of April 2, there had been 36 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Lebanon County, but no deaths, Dowd told the commissioners. (On Thursday afternoon, the state announced that there were now 45 confirmed cases in Lebanon County.)
Commissioner Litz said she has been asked by residents about the number of available hospital beds and the number of respirators available for patients.
Litz asked Dowd what she should tell them.
“If the virus were to continue exponentially, there will not be enough beds, and that’s not a county or state thing, that’s a national problem,” Dowd said.
Dowd preferred not to quote any bed numbers regarding the WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital or the Lebanon Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The Emergency Operations Center is still activated, Dowd said, and personnel were seeing a “sizable amount of volume,” mostly from citizens asking for information.
The “911” dispatch system has not seen any significant up-ticks, Dowd said.
Numbers (of confirmed COVID-19 cases) are going up, Dowd said, but the actions taken by the county and state—primarily shelter-at-home and social distancing—are still helping to keep that number from skyrocketing.
“If it gets into an extended care home, it is extremely dangerous,” Dowd said.
The need for personal protective equipment remains a problem for their agency and for all first responders and medical personnel, Dowd said.
“They need these supplies to protect themselves,” Dowd said.
Dowd’s department is accepting donations of masks, gowns, gloves, and cleaning supplies.
“Donations will make a real impact for those on the front lines,” Dowd said.
In a news release first circulated on March 31, the county commissioners, Mayor Sherry Capello, and the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce asked county residents for PPE donations to help supply the local health care systems and first responders.
All donations must be new, commercially made, and in unopened packages to be accepted by the Department of Emergency Services.
Included in the donation list are: N95 masks, surgical/dust masks, elastomeric respirators, eye protection, Latex-free disposable gloves, commercially made disposable disinfecting wipes (germicidal with bleach), disinfecting wipes that are greater than 70 percent alcohol, and hand sanitizer and hand soap.
The new, unused PPE may be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the bottom of the loading dock of the courthouse at 400 South Eighth Street in receptacles that have been provided.
Individuals, businesses, or organizations with questions related to donations may call the Department of Emergency Services at 717-675-1380.
Dowd expressed gratitude for the donations that have already been received.
“The frontline folks are doing a great job and they need our prayers, too,” said Commissioner Phillips. “We need to remember to keep the space between us to save lives, to stop the spread.”
Phillips also praised the employees at the courthouse for doing a great job and keeping departments up and running.
Commissioner Ames agreed.
“During this catastrophe, our employees have stepped up and done remarkably well,” Ames said. “All jobs are equally important.”
“We have to take care of each other,” Litz said. “The workers on the front line are our heroes and everyone deserves our kudos and thanks…and for the people donating supplies, God bless you.”
In another matter, the courts are only functioning in an emergency capacity, said Jamie Wolgemuth, county administrator and public information officer.
Judges are holding hearings for cases like protection from abuse orders or emergency custody orders.
The Lebanon County Commissioners are considering delaying the date when penalties would accrue on real estate taxes due to the uncertain economic situation created by the coronavirus pandemic.
County Treasurer Sallie Neuin, Human Resources Director Michelle Edris, and county solicitor Dave Warner also joined the meeting from remote locations.
Neuin said the department is processing payroll and real estate taxes.
Currently, county taxpayers can receive a discount of two percent if taxes are paid up until April 30; will pay a flat rate until June 30; and receive a 10 percent penalty in July.
County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth said other counties are delaying any penalties and asked the commissioners if they would like to do the same.
Solicitor Warner said, because of the uncertain economy, many counties are holding off on levying any penalties.
“It’s widely accepted; this is something that can be done,” Warner said. “Everyone is still up in the air about what the economy will look like.”
Warner asked if the commissioners would want to follow the Adams County model, which extends the discount date to August.
“Each municipality can enact their own (dates) but if the commissioners want to move forward to give a consistent approach, all municipalities could have the same language, dates, and deadlines,” Wolgemuth said.
Phillips asked Warner to get more information and to draft a proposal for the next commissioners’ meeting.
If the commissioners agree to mirror the Adams County model, the discount tax period would go until June 30; the flat period would extend to October 1; and penalties would start on Nov. 1.
Ames and Litz both said they liked the proposed resolution and would probably vote to approve.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here. Additionally, David Warner has a financial interest in the ownership of LebTown’s parent company Lebanon Publishing Company. He has no involvement in editorial/newsroom operations, including this article.