‘This is no time to relax’: Cases will peak in a few weeks, Montco officials estimate

EAGLEVILLE, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — Montgomery County was initially one of the hardest-hit counties in Pennsylvania battling the coronavirus crisis.

Within the past month, testing availability has expanded and social-distancing guidelines have been set. But for Jim Tighe’s mother-in-law, it was a different experience.

Tighe’s mother-in-law was one of the first in Montgomery County to contract COVID-19. She was hospitalized on March 14 with textbook symptoms, including pneumonia, but based on guidelines at the time, she wasn’t immediately tested.

“Because she didn’t know anybody who had been to China or Italy, she wasn’t eligible for a test. That was ludicrous to us and a very frustrating part,” he recalled. “They were still asking questions such as, ‘Had you traveled to China or Europe or Italy recently? Are you aware that you’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive?’ Which in my opinion was a tough question since testing was so few and far between.”

His family is grateful for the care she received while she was hospitalized, but Tighe said it was hard to think of her alone in the hospital on oxygen — and equally hard to keep up on her treatment, since they couldn’t be in the room with the doctor.

“I’m sure there’s plenty of Americans going through similar cases, but when it’s happening to you, it’s a little surreal,” he admitted.

His mother-in-law is now out of the hospital and recovering at home. But now, her husband has symptoms. When he finally got tested, it came back negative, but his doctor told him to assume he has it and isolate.

Tighe said his father-in-law is generally healthy, but at the height of his symptoms, he was sleeping about 20 hours a day, and something as simple as taking a shower was taxing.

Tighe and his immediate family self-quarantined for 14 days after being in touch with his in-laws. That was just at the start of Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order. They made it out the other side, with no one showing symptoms.

Although he saw the reality of the virus firsthand, Tighe said it seemed like others weren’t taking it seriously. He said it was extremely stressful worrying about if one of his children got it.

“What if our kids have to go to the hospital and we’re not permitted to go into the hospital with them. How is that going to work?” he questioned.

Now, Tighe’s in-laws are a part of a larger pool of patients. As of Monday, more than 500 people have COVID-19 in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh announced the county’s sixth coronavirus-related death on Monday: an 82-year-old woman from Springfield Township.

With so many confirmed cases, Arkoosh said data shows Montco will peak in about two weeks, though the height of the peak is unknown.

“It’s all going to depend on what people do in the next two weeks,” she said. “If everybody stays home, it should be, hopefully, fairly manageable, but if people start going out and start relaxing and then loosen up, it could be very, very serious.”

Arkoosh announced on Monday that three corrections officers at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility have tested positive, but so far, there has not been any contact tracing to any inmates, and no positive cases among inmates.

The drive-thru testing site on Temple University’s Ambler campus is expected to have enough supplies to get through the week, though Arkoosh said it’s unclear if it will be restocked. The site is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Hospitals and health care providers across Montgomery County are continuing preparations to handle more coronavirus cases in the coming weeks. Arkoosh said everyone, including first responders and hospital workers, are short on supplies, and everyone would like to have more, but for now, Montgomery County is getting by.

Horsham Fire Chief Lee Greenburg echoed Arkoosh: They’ve received some personal protection equipment (PPE) donations from local businesses, like gowns, gloves and face masks, but they’re still in need of more.

They haven’t run out of anything yet, but he said they need to prepare for whatever’s coming, and first responders need to be protected while on calls — not only to make sure there’s someone to respond, but also for their own protection.

“I want our people to be properly protected when they’re dealing with this because these folks have to go home to their families and we don’t want them or their families being affected by something they have to deal with at work,” he said.

Protocol for first responders has changed, and to be safe, they’re going through more equipment than they were. Greenburg is asking everyone to continue to pitch in.

“If there are businesses out there that could part with some of their equipment or could help us procure some of this stuff, that would be great. We would love your help,” he said. “For the public, stay inside, follow CDC guidelines. Follow what we’re being told as far as keeping everybody safe and keeping your distance, and we’ll get through this together.”

State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery County) said after some hospital workers reached out with concerns, he checked in with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and was told they’d sent supplies to hospitals.

“I’ve also heard from some EMS providers that some new protocols have been put in place that require a great deal more of the equipment than they currently have, so we’re working to address those needs as well,” he said.

EMS workers are running low on supplies too.

“As these EMS providers, the pre-hospital teams out in our county are working to prepare themselves, it’s hard because they’re competing with the hospitals and the nursing homes, and everybody else who’s pulling down on the system for this PPE,” he noted.