By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania health officials say hospitals are nearing a breaking point as the commonwealth reports the highest number of daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Health Department reported 11,406 new COVID-19 cases, setting a single-day record.

Another 187 Pennsylvanians died from the virus.

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Pennsylvania could be out of intensive care beds soon, according to Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine. In Delaware County, there are reportedly just eight ICU beds currently available. COVID-19 has hospitals across the state in critical condition.

More than 5,000 people are hospitalized in Pennsylvania, which is an 85% increase compared to two weeks ago and ICU beds are running out fast.

“I see that as a significant concern that we need to work to avoid,” Dr. Levine said.

The secretary of health has established a system for local hospitals to work together, canceling elective surgeries, when necessary, to keep beds available.

“There are not an unlimited number of hospital beds but even more importantly, there are not an unlimited number of staff,” Dr. Levine said.

Because of community spread, a growing number of health care workers have COVID or need to quarantine.

“It’s overwhelming and we’re doing the best we can,” said Desirae Cogswell, an ICU respiratory therapist.

Staffing shortages in hospitals have become significant.

“There’s only so many 12-hour shifts you can do in a week,” said Dr. Scott Samlan, an emergency department physician.

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Most Montgomery County hospitals are at capacity. Unlike in the spring, medical staff from other states aren’t available to help and neither is the National Guard.

“They’re fully employed and fully deployed to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that are challenged and so, they can’t be in two places at once,” Dr. Levine said.

It means extra work for Dr. Alyssa Yeager, who is on her first job as a doctor at Jefferson Center City, taking care of COVID patients.

“I think as the numbers increase, we have to sort of get all hands on deck, different teams are taking on more and more responsibility,” Dr. Yeager said.

It’s difficult and challenging, but Dr. Yeager says one of the hardest parts is seeing patients struggling.

“It’s the emotional toll that it comes from taking care of these patients that are so sick and alone,” she said.

Patients are alone in hospitals now because they’re closed to visitors. Dr. Yeager and others try to link patients with loved ones, with things like FaceTime.


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Stephanie Stahl