FEMA to Send Strike Teams to Pennsylvania as Hospitals Face Overwhelming Number of Patients

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will send strike teams to Pennsylvania as hospitals face an overwhelming number of patients from the latest COVID surge, Governor Tom Wolf's office said Tuesday.

Wolf's office said it is finalizing the plan for the strike teams, but the administration has yet to provide information regarding how many people will be in the federal teams, what expertise and equipment they will bring, and when they are expected to arrive at the state's hospitals.

"The federal government has responded to Governor Wolf's request for additional support for Pennsylvania's health care system, and we are now meeting with them daily to finalize support plans," Keara Klinepeter, the state's acting secretary of health, said in a statement published online on Tuesday. "At this time, we do know that strike teams will be sent to the commonwealth and are working with our federal partners to identify and confirm exact locations and any additional resources."

"Any federal assistance will help relieve some pressure on the health system so there is capacity to treat people who need hospital care," Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield said in the statement.

As of Tuesday, Pennsylvania hospitals had 4,648 admitted patients with COVID, around 120 more than during the previous week, PennLive.com reported.

Over the last two weeks, the state is reporting an average of nearly 9,000 COVID cases per day, an increase of 50 percent over figures in the second half of November. The number of hospitalized COVID patients has risen by about 80 percent since last month.

The state's daily average number of COVID cases was 9,979 from December 20 to December 26, according to a press release from the state Department of Health.

The state also recently set a new daily record with almost 14,000 new COVID cases, PennLive.com reported.

However, the percentage of open adult and pediatric ICU beds in the state has risen to 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively, over the past seven days, according to the state health department's press release.

COVID Surge, Pennsylvania Hospitals, FEMA Strike Teams
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s office said it is finalizing plans for FEMA strike teams, but Wolf’s administration has yet to provide information regarding how many people will be in the federal teams, what expertise and equipment they will bring, and when they are set to arrive at hospitals. Above, health care workers attend to a patient with COVID-19 as they prepare to turn the 45-year-old patient from his stomach onto his back at the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, California, on September 2. Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

Wolf's administration said it asked the federal government for help on December 15, seeking health care workers to help at hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and ambulance companies in the hardest-hit areas of the state.

Pennsylvania also asked FEMA for 1 million rapid at-home coronavirus tests and for an increase in the state's allocation of monoclonal antibody treatments.

Hospitals and nursing homes statewide have been sounding the alarm in recent weeks as largely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients fill hospital beds, sending some acute-care facilities over capacity.

Hospitals are reporting very long emergency room waits, while staffing shortages in nursing homes are forcing some to stop accepting new residents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

COVID Surge, Pennsylvania Hospitals, FEMA Strike Teams
As of Tuesday, Pennsylvania hospitals had 4,648 admitted patients with COVID, PennLive.com reported. In this photo is the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on August 29, 2014. Michael Zorn/Getty Images