AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – With the holiday season beginning across the country, the City of Amarillo scheduled to brief the community on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the last briefing, city leaders were cautious but optimistic about the community’s efforts to survive and fight against the virus. This came despite neighboring New Mexico enacting its Crisis Standards of Care guidelines as it continues to deal with its most recent spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Since the last briefing, COVID-19 booster shots have been available to the High Plains community for those eligible. Vaccinations have also been cleared by US health officials for children ages five to 11, noted by the CDC Directors as, “a monumental day in the course of this pandemic.”
In a more tragic turn, the High Plains saw the deaths of multiple law enforcement officers from COVID-19 in the last few weeks. These included APD Sergeant Mike Dunn, and APD Sergeant Raquel Saunders. There has been a noted trend across the US regarding first responders dying from COVID-19, now a leading cause of death among that demographic.
Also between Monday and Tuesday this week, the State of Texas appeared poised to pass amendments related to limiting how the government can regulate religious services and visitors in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. These amendments to the state constitution came in response to previous COVID-19 restrictions. Texas, further, extended Emergency SNAP Benefits through the month of November.
During the city briefing, Amarillo Public Health Director Casie Stoughton framed the day as exciting because of the new vaccination eligibilities for young children. The Amarillo Public Health Department has made vaccines available for every eligible demographic.
Every local health leader in the briefing heavily encouraged families to vaccinate their children, alongside encouraging all eligible people to be vaccinated.
While the Amarillo area is no longer considered an area of high hospitalization, Stoughton also explained that the area would remain in Level “Red” Status until other qualifications were met. Later on, Public Health Authority Dr. Todd Bell said it was possible for the area to leave the high-status level in the next few weeks.
Dr. Bell reported that the data regarding children aged five to 11 showed over 90% effectiveness in preventing severe COVID-19 illness. Families can also expect a short bout of aches and low-grade fever as side effects of the vaccine, very similar to most adult reactions.
While the decrease in COVID-19 cases around the High Plains has been very slow, Bell still expressed his optimism about low virus cases going into the holiday season. However, even people who have been vaccinated can see breakthrough cases of COVID-19 – even if those cases are rarely severe enough to warrant hospitalization – and so Bell encouraged the community to continue wearing masks in crowded areas, and practicing good hygiene and social distancing.
Dr. Brian Weis of Northwest Texas Healthcare System (NWTHS) expressed his impatience with how slow the COVID-19 case decrease in the area has been, but he did also say he shares optimism for the holiday season.
Weis reported that NWTHS had 31 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday morning, only five of whom were reported to be vaccinated. Eight of those COVID-19 patients were in the ICU, five on ventilators. The hospital saw 20 deaths from COVID-19 throughout October and one already in November. 13 patients were reported to be waiting for available space and care throughout the region.
Weis also noted the broad distribution of COVID-19 patients, with the virus seriously impacting children, adults, elderly populations, and pregnant and otherwise labor-and-delivery-ward patients. Because of this, he expressed the importance of vaccination through all eligible demographics.
Dr. Michael Lamanteer of BSA Healthcare System (BSA) reported 35 COVID-19 patients in the hospital Wednesday morning. 21 of those were reported to be in the ICU, with 13 on ventilators; the majority of hospitalized patients were noted as not being vaccinated.
With a large general inpatient population in BSA because of seasonal high amounts of respiratory illness alongside COVID-19 continuing to spread, Lamanteeer discussed that an ongoing issue for his and other hospitals in the area has been staffing. RAC nurses provided by the state, also noted by Weis, are being phased out to other assignments and are expected to be gone from the area’s healthcare system by the beginning of December. This has left hospitals struggling in order to ensure that they have enough staff in order to accept both COVID-19 patients and others in need of care.
Lamanteer went on in that vein to express the importance of vaccination once more. Data, he said, has shown that people are five times more likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 after having it once without getting vaccinated. People who are vaccinated are less likely to transmit the virus and are far less likely to suffer severe illness if they experience a breakthrough infection. With the delta variant having shown to be transmissible off of vaccinated people to others, he urged that children being vaccinated as well as others would lower each household’s total risk from COVID-19.
Lamanteer also noted, “we need to put our faith and our beliefs in good science,” regarding vaccines and other treatments for COVID-19. He brought up that the current most-referenced study regarding drugs like Ivermectin being effective against the virus had serious flaws to the point of bringing up ethical concerns. He encouraged the community to trust accredited sources and their healthcare providers.
Dr. Rodney Gonzalez of the Amarillo VA reported one COVID-19 patient, who was also in the ICU. He continued the trend of encouraging vaccinations for both COVID-19 and the flu and noted that the VA has supplies of both the Moderna and J&J vaccines to offer to patients.