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Visalia hospital caring for 83 COVID-19 patients, shares info, urges community to stay safe

  • Category: News
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  • Written By: Laura Florez-McCusker

VISALIA – With COVID-19 numbers on the rise across the nation and throughout the State, Kaweah Health Medical Center, the largest acute care hospital in Tulare County, announced Friday it was caring for 83 COVID-19 patients - the highest number since the inception of the pandemic.

“These are serious times right now. It is clearly much different than March and April where we were sitting on the edge of our seat holding our breath, waiting for the New York experience to come our way and it never did, but now it has arrived,” said Gary Herbst, Kaweah Health's Chief Executive Officer, noting. “I wouldn’t say that we are experiencing what New York and New Jersey experienced, but it is getting increasingly more serious.”

Of the 83 patients in the hospital, 43 were in critical care either in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit or in its step down ICU, and 15 of COVID-19 patients were on ventilators. On Friday, of its 330 physical beds available for adults (excluding Maternal Child Health, which includes Labor and Delivery, Mother-Baby, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Pediatrics, etc.), 302 of those beds were occupied, 81 by COVID-19 positive patients, which left 28 physical beds open for adult patients. However, the challenge, for Kaweah Health is staffing those beds, Herbst said.

“We could probably only staff a handful of those beds,” he said, noting that with 80 employees in quarantine and a number of others on leave, Kaweah Health is experiencing staffing challenges as many others are across the state.

The Visalia hospital continues to work on staffing solutions, which include incentivizing clinical staff to work additional shifts and hiring additional clinical staff, along with student nurse interns. Kaweah Health is also training all registered nurses on staff with a license so that when needed, they are prepared to serve at the bedside. “We are pulling a lot of our non-bedside nurses and onboarding them back to their bedside skills. We’re teaching medical-surgical nurses how to take care of critical care patients,” Herbst said.

Herbst provided the age range breakdown of COVID-19 patients; highlighting the fact that the largest cohort of inpatients was in the 35-49 age range. On July 24, the age breakdown of COVID-19 positive inpatients was as follows:

Age Number of Inpatients

5-17 ----- 1

18-34 ----- 6

35-49 ----- 19

50-59 ----- 10

60-64 ----- 7

65-69 ----- 13

70-74 ----- 17

75-79 ----- 4

80+ ----- 6

“We are seeing more, younger people hospitalized, but that also can correlate to the higher percentage of young people contracting the virus. They tend to be more active socially and putting themselves in greater exposure,” Herbst said. “At the state level, the highest percentage of those that are contracting the virus, in fact, roughly 70 percent of them are less than 50 years old that have contracted the virus, but they account for a very low percentage of the deaths.”

Herbst also shared the fact that of those COVID-19 positive patients who have died at Kaweah Health since the inception of the pandemic, all had an underlying health condition – diabetes, obesity, chronic heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, renal disease, etc.

“We have one of the highest diabetes populations in the entire state. We use more insulin per capita in Tulare County than anywhere in the U.S.,” he said. “We have a high percentage of diabetes and it seems to be one of the leading co-morbidities of those who are being hospitalized and dying of COVID, so I do want people with diabetes to be extra cautious. Those folks who are obese or have any of those underlying comorbidities, certainly the science and the statistics are showing that they’re at greater risk, so they need to be extra cautious.”

While testing numbers continue to go up in Tulare County, which is a good thing, Herbst is asking the community not to come to Kaweah Health's Emergency Department seeking a COVID-19 test. “Due to a lack of testing supplies, we reserve tests at our hospital for patients and people with symptoms who need medical attention,” he said. “If you show up to the ED to be tested, even if you are symptomatic, if it’s not an emergency, unfortunately, we are not going to test you. There are many other ways to get tested.” Those seeking testing should:

  • Call their physician
  • Call Kaweah Health’s free COVID-19 hotline at 559-624-4110
  • Call 211
  • Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency lists COVID-19 testing sites on its website at

Kaweah Health shares COVID-19 information and regular updates with the community on its website at and on its social media accounts.