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Centra discusses returning to normal

After a long year of battling the pandemic, Centra officials are beginning to move their hospitals back to more of a normal operating environment.

Centra Vice President of Medical Affairs Chris Lewis said during a Wednesday, March 17, press conference that the virus will still be around. But with a greatly reduced number of patients utilizing less space in both the Lynchburg and Southside facilities, a return to normality is being discussed.

“How do we unwind all of this? How do we get back to a stance where we are operating, essentially, normally?” he said. “COVID will still be with us for quite a long time, and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with that and deal with it safely.”

Lewis said things like closing the COVID floor at Centra Southside Community Hospital and treating all COVID patients at Lynchburg General Hospital could be a possibility if patient numbers continue to hold at low numbers.

As of Wednesday, March 17, Southside only had one COVID patient. Lynchburg General had eight. That’s down from a high of 133 COVID patients at Lynchburg at one point in the pandemic.

“Southside has not infrequently had zero patients in the hospital that have COVID or are COVID suspected, so their COVID floor has been, at times, empty,” he said.

One way Centra is getting life back to normal is loosening its visitation policy. Patients on non-COVID floors may have two visitors at a time beginning Friday, March 19. Visitors in the emergency room and other procedural areas will continue to be restricted to one visitor per patient due to space constraints.

Visitors will continue to be screened for COVID symptoms and must wear a mask while in any Centra building.

Visitation hours will be from 7 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. daily with the exception of in the emergency department, labor and delivery and end-of-life patients. 

Lewis said that the more people become fully vaccinated, the less likely it is large surges in cases will be seen in the area.

“Each day that passes that the numbers are going down here and nationally is a good day and (as) we get more (vaccinations) I think it becomes less and less likely we are going to see surges again, but there are variants out there. So far it hasn’t been clear they are really highly relevant in terms of pushing another surge. We know they are out there and we know they are spreading, but, at the same time, don’t see hospitals getting surged again.

“I think we are getting into better and better space where it would be highly unlikely to see another surge, but you can’t say never.”

The Virginia Department of Health announced Tuesday parts of the state would begin vaccinating those in the 1C category of the population. All communities should be able to move to the 1C group in the coming weeks.