Worcester field hospital reducing staff after drop in COVID-19 patients

WORCESTER — The DCU Center field hospital is scaling back its resources after a significant drop in coronavirus patients, the facility’s medical director said.

UMass Memorial Emergency Physician Dr. John Broach said the field hospital treated only 13 patients Thursday, down from a high of 67 on Jan. 8.

“To be at a point now when we’re really out of the [second] surge and moving into a better place is welcoming for everyone,” Broach said.

The facility is also reducing its number of nurses and doctors. Broach said they are staffed for 60 beds, half of the field hospital’s 120 bed-capacity at the peak of the surge.

“The key is the light is at the end of the tunnel. We can see it, but we’re not out of the tunnel yet,” Broach said.

Although numbers are low, Broach said there are no plans to close the Worcester field hospital anytime soon.

“The state has asked us to continue to maintain readiness so that’s what we’re doing,” Broach said. “We’re ready in case things get worse again. Hopefully they won’t and we’ll continue to move in the right direction.”

Falling numbers at healthcare facilities like the Worcester field hospital are what’s motivating state leaders to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in Massachusetts.

The Baker Administration announced Thursday Massachusetts would advance to Step 2 of Phase III of the state’s reopening plan on Monday, Mar. 1, followed by a transition to Step 1 of Phase IV on Mar. 22.

“With public health metrics continuing to trend in a positive direction, including drops in average daily COVID cases and hospitalizations, and vaccination rates continuing to increase, the Administration is taking steps to continue to reopen the Commonwealth’s economy,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a release.

But some doctors are worried the numbers could turn in the wrong direction.

“Cases are still really high,” Tufts Medical Center Epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron said. “I’m worried about the message that it sends when we say things are great, we’re opening up. Things aren’t great right now.”

Doron said it’s important to remember the state is not changing the limit on private gatherings, which remains capped at 10 for indoor events.

“The spread is not happening so much in business settings, public places where there are rules. The spread is happening behind closed doors where there aren’t rules, where there are people letting their guard down,” she said.

Doron is worried the governor’s announcement could give people a false sense of security.

“This does not mean that we can stop wearing masks. That does not mean that we should stop keeping our distance from other with whom we do not live. There’s a little bit more work to be done here,” she said.

Broach had a similar warning.

“Please continue to be cautious, continue to get tested if you have symptoms or if you’re concerned about exposure. We’re hopefully on top of it now, but it won’t stay like that forever if we don’t continue to do the good things that we’ve been doing,” Broach said.

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