NORRISTOWN, PA — Montgomery County Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh said Wednesday the county is still seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases following the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays, and the new caseload is seriously straining the limits of the county’s nine hospitals.

Currently, 539 COVID patients are hospitalized, 177 from the past week. Of the 430 ventilators available countywide, 152 are in use, and 53 of those are COVID patients.

“I believe this is the highest number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county since the onset of the virus,” she said.

Although the hospitals are better equipped to manage the COVID-19 crisis now than in the spring, the surge has forced some hospitals in the area to be on “divert” status for several hours on any given day in the last week, Arkoosh said. In divert status, the hospital emergency room is full, and as a result ER staff will ask ambulances to take a patient to a different hospital.

While the number of persons hospitalized is on the increase, it’s not bed capacity that concerns Arkoosh.

“The challenge is having enough nursing personnel, nurse assistants, all the other staff that are needed and required to put people into those beds,” she said. Earlier in the pandemic, hard hit regions could often bring in nurses from outside the area, but because the surge is happening nationwide, “there are virtually no personnel to travel here to lend a hand.”

At the end of June, the chance of a Montgomery County resident running into a person with COVID-19 was one out 1,875, Arkoosh noted. On December 9, the chance of a resident meeting up with someone with the disease is one out of 155.

“We highlight the areas of Halloween and Thanksgiving,” said Arkoosh as graphics displaying the county’s caseload spikes, “because the cases went up significantly from there.”

COVID-related deaths are at levels not seen since June. There were 14 more deaths this week: One resident died at home, 10 hospitals and three in long-term care facilities.

“This brings our total number of deaths to 908 today,” Arkoosh said. An additional 239 county residents tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday, she said. Those positive cases were testing for the virus, not for antibodies.

“I don’t think there is going to be an easy way to bring these numbers down if people don’t follow the regulations voluntarily,” she said.

On the day that Gov. Tom Wolf announced that he, too, has coronavirus, Arkoosh reminded everyone that the virus spreads through droplets in the air, “so breathing, singing, talking… all will spread the virus. It is important that you wear a mask, keep at least six feet of distance, avoid social gatherings, if you can work from home please do so and avoid carpools — unless you can keep the windows open and everyone wears a mask.”

With news that the vaccines will begin rolling out this winter, the commission chair reminded the digital audience for the Facebook-streamed meeting that “there is a light at the end of the tunnel here.”

County residents can still get a flu shot, which Arkoosh reminded, serves to both reduce your chance of getting sick from the flu and “reduce flu patients needing to be hospitalized.”

Call (610) 278-5145 to make an appointment at the Norristown Public Health Center, 1430 DeKalb Street, Norristown, PA 19404 (Entrance on DeKalb Street).

The county now offers increased testing hours, with six facilities open 40 hours a week. If Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. don’t work for your schedule, there is testing available in Lansdale this Saturday as well, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at 421 W. Main Street, behind the Montgomery County Aging Office, Arkoosh announced.

Those interested in making an appointment at any of the testing sites should visit :  or call 610-970-2937.