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Local hospitals brace for surge in COVID-19 patients

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TUCSON - National health experts said that the next two weeks are likely to be the worst of this pandemic across much of the country.

However, Arizona health leaders said the state's peak number of cases and hospitalizations are still a few weeks away.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams shared sobering words to describe what he believes the country will face.

“The next week is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment," Adams said on Meet The Press Sunday. "It’s going to be our 9/11 moment."

Dr. Matt Heinz is a hospitalist at Tucson Medical Center.

Heinz spends time in both the emergency room and ICU, working with his colleagues on the front lines every day.

“At my facility, they are doing everything possible to increase the number of beds available,” Heinz said.

“Staffed beds," Heinz specified. "It doesn’t help to have a bed if you don’t have nurses to help staff it."

Heinz added that doctors, pharmacists, respiratory therapists and other necessary specialists will be on staff to take care of the patients.

Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, is at a premium.

“Everybody wants to buy more PPE,” Pima County Health Director Dr. Bob England said. “It isn’t there. You can’t buy stuff that doesn’t physically exist.”

With a statewide testing shortage, England argued the number of reported cases in Arizona is very low.

“Many people may be asymptomatic and not even know it,” England said. “Take the numbers we report in Pima County and multiply it by 50, maybe even 100.”

Heinz said rest for doctors and nurses is key right now with the potential for grueling weeks ahead.

“Seven on and seven days off in the COVID-unit," Heinz said. "That’s what my partners are doing there."

Heinz added that he is hoping the nurses are getting their necessary time off, as well.

“That will prepare us to take care of patients when it does start to ramp up here, anytime now,” Heinz said.

Furthermore, Rebecca Ruiz McGill with Banner University Medical Center told News 4 Tucson that a team at Banner UMC is looking at ways to increase more beds outside of the hospital, including setting up tents in parking lots and football fields.

The team at Banner UMC has been working with community leaders to come up with a plan to house future patients in hotels and churches, if necessary. 

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Eric Fink

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