NORRISTOWN, PA — With the grim statistics of 14 new deaths and over 2,319 new cases of coronavirus this week, Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chair Dr. Val Arkoosh pleaded with the public to maintain social distance, wear a mask and minimize trips outside home or work.

The county Office of Public Health (OPH) noted that this brings countywide totals since the pandemic’s start in March, to 21,388 cases and 878 deaths.

Long-term health facilities accounted for 85 of the new cases and one of the deaths, OPH reported.

“The decision each person makes: whether or not they wear a mask, maintain social distance, whether or not they answer the phone when a contact tracer calls, affect all of us,” Arkoosh said at a Wednesday press conference. “This is particularly true in our hospitals and our schools. In order for a patient to occupy a hospital bed, there must be an actual bed, but that’s the least of it.”

Arkoosh added that much-needed staff — doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab techs, environmental services and food services employees — to care for that COVID-19 patient is also being impacted by the virus, as beds fill up and hospital workers contract the virus.

“Our Montgomery County hospitals are facing critical limits in terms of their staff,” she said. “They have all been impacted by staff who have been exposed or infected in the community due to the substantial amounts of virus right now… There are no spare staff. Right now, our hospitals are concerned that in the next ten days or so, all their intensive care unit beds could be filled.”

Patients have been diverted from hospital emergency rooms throughout the county and scheduled surgeries are being canceled for COVID-19 patient beds, she said. “Additionally, hospitals are diverting patients in our surrounding counties.”

Out of the county’s 428 available ventilators, 137 are currently in use, county officials shared during the press conference.

There are 362 COVID-19 patients hospitalized and 43 of those are on ventilators.

The county opted on November 13 to have all private and public K-12 students attend virtually from November 23 to December 6 to reduce the expected Thanksgiving week uptick. Schools can reopen on Monday, if they decide to do so.

Resuming in-person education does not require any vote or other action by the Montgomery County Board of Health, the county said.

Arkoosh said that she, like most parents in the county, “feels that the best place for a child is in the classroom.”

But she cautioned that all of the people that run schools, like hospitals, also are being exposed to the disease as the numbers continue to go up all over the nation.

“We truly are in this all together,” she said. “The choices that each of us makes will have direct impacts on our hospitals and schools.”

Noting that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that up to 50 percent of those infected show no signs of disease, Arkoosh asked people to “remember that your decisions impact all of us.”

As the holidays approach and flu season is upon us, Montgomery OPH continues to offer appointment-only flu shots. Flu shots are available at no cost to anyone age 6 months and older who live, work, or go to school in Montgomery County. Call (610) 278-5145 to make an appointment at the Norristown Public Health Center, 1430 DeKalb Street, Norristown, PA 19404 (entrance on DeKalb Street).

Those looking to get a test and have struggled to an appointment time will now have 40 hours a week to get one from the county’s six testing sites, said Arkoosh. “We have expanded testing site hours to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to make it easier to get an appointment,” she said.

Appointments can be made weekdays starting at 7 a.m. online or starting at 8:30 a.m. by calling (610) 970-2937.