NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, 178 coronavirus-positive patients were being treated by health care heroes at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.

A lot has changed over the past several weeks, as the virus’ surge and the number of COVID-19 patients across the state has continued to plummet. Last week, as few as 30 COVID-19 patients were being treated at Saint Peter’s.

The demand for COVID-19 hospital beds and sometimes hard-to-find personal protection equipment such as face coverings, gloves and gowns has subsided as the number of new cases across the state have been outnumbered by the number of hospital discharges starting last month.

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With Gov. Phil Murphy signing Executive Order No. 145 in May to allow for the resumption of elective surgeries and invasive procedures, Saint Peter’s has already begun to pivot from crisis mode toward more typical operating procedures.

“We've restarted elective surgery, elective procedures,” said Les Hirsch, president and chief financial officer at Saint Peter’s. “I think the public definitely has some worry about is it safe to go to hospitals and go to their doctor's offices and, and the fact is, it is safe.

“And the worry that we had where previously we encouraged people to stay away unless they needed to come, now that circumstance and that condition does not exist anymore. And so, there's no good reason for anybody to put off seeing their doctor, go into the emergency room, if needed, or seeking health care.”

Hirsch said the hospital has taken unprecedented steps to maintain a safe environment because, as he put it, “We’re not out of the woods.”

For starters, he said that the facility initiated extensive industrial and high-tech cleansings, and touchpoints are frequently sanitized.

Beyond that, patients who come to the hospital are required to put on face coverings.

Visitors coming to see loved ones will, as part of the process, will be screened for their temperature and asked questions about their health that the hospital would not have asked before the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors will also be asked to wear a face covering.

Since the number of COVID-19 patients has plummeted, keeping them isolated from other patients is a much easier task. Hirsh said that most of those patients can fit in one unit. The patients being treated in one of Saint Peter’s intensive care unit can also be safely isolated from other patients.

Hirsch says all patients – COVID-19 or otherwise – are treated with the utmost respect and consideration. Keeping the COVID-19 patients away from others is “simply good infection control.”

“With our ICU, it's actually divided into quadrants,” Hirsch said. “So, we can cohort the COVID-19 patients in a particular section of our Intensive Care Unit. And then if you look at the ability to cohort COVID patients strictly in the other nursing units, where we can keep just specific nursing units where they will not be used for COPD patients. So a patient can come here knowing that it's not that they're going to be in a room with another patient that potentially has COVID, let alone they're not going to be on a nursing unit with another patient that has COVID on that unit. Because right now we can cohort the patients to particular areas where we just keep the COVID patients.”