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Ambulances ‘diverted’ from Sentara hospital – but not because of COVID-19, officials say

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Dale City Volunteer Fire Department ambulances

Local ambulances were bypassing Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in Woodbridge Monday afternoon due to capacity issues. But officials said the move was not directly the result of an increased number of COVID-19 patients but rather “an influx of various emergencies.”

Prince William County’s emergency operations staff issued a message to the local fire and rescue departments Monday announcing a “full diversion” of patients from Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in Woodbridge beginning at 1:30 p.m. due to “diminished capacity,” with the status to be re-evaluated every two hours, according to the announcement, which was obtained by the Prince William Times.

Assistant Fire Chief Matt Smolsky confirmed later Monday that the Sentara Emergency Department requested the diversion status but said COVID-19 was not directly to blame.

“It was not due to COVID patients but rather to an influx of various emergencies,” Smolsky said in an email.

“It is not uncommon for an area hospital to request diversion or reroute status. If a patient was in serious condition, and Sentara was the closest appropriate facility, we could still transport to their [emergency department],” he added. “Other patients are being transported to other area medical facilities for now.”

The hospital’s emergency department status “is currently being monitored” by Prince William County fire and rescue system staff, and patient transport considerations will be updated based on the department’s status, Smolsky said.

In an emailed statement, Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center official Helen Linton said the hospital’s capacity level “ebbs and flows hour to hour” with ongoing discharges and admissions.

Linton’s statement, however, did not address questions about the number of patients currently being treated at the hospital for COVID-19-like illnesses or whether the hospital is nearing its capacity.

“We follow appropriate transmission-based precautions and protocols for our patients, their care, and the safety of the community – especially if patients are identified with contact, droplet, and/or airborne infection conditions,” Linton’s statement said.

An average of about 34% of all the hospital beds in Prince William County were occupied with patients being treated for COVID-19 symptoms between the week of Dec. 4-10, according to hospital-level data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the first time last week. 

During the same period, about 16% of the county’s ICU beds were filled with COVID-19 patients, according to an analysis of the HHS data by the University of Minnesota’s COVID-19 Hospital Tracking Project.

In Virginia, hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to set records, with 2,260 patients hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases statewide on Monday, Dec. 14, according to the Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association.

About 77% of state’s ICU beds were filled on Monday. But the VHHA only reports ICU capacities statewide and current hospitalizations by region – not by locality or at the hospital level.

Reach Jill Palermo at

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