AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Amid rising rates of COVID-19 cases an an ‘Orange’ level Alert Status, the City of Amarillo hosted a briefing on the state of the pandemic at 11 a.m.

Dr. Todd Bell made his first appearance at a weekly COVID-19 briefing, in place of Dr. Milton. Dr. Brian Weis spoke on the numbers for both Northwest Texas Health Services and BSA Healthcare regarding COVID-19.

Reported by Public Health Director Casie Stoughton, the Amarillo area has seen 36,355 total cases of COVID-19, with an increase of 172 cases since Tuesday. Currently there are 1,435 active cases reported, and there have been 780 total deaths.

With an increase of 989 new cases of COVID-19 since the Alert Status level for the area changed to ‘Orange’, Stoughton reported there is an average of 129 new cases per day. The Area Hospitalization Rate was noted at 10.45%.

Stoughton also mentioned that she had received questions about quarantine practices over the last few weeks. For those who are not vaccinated and not properly masking, Stoughton said the quarantine guideline after exposure to COVID-19 remains at two weeks.

Dr. Weis reported that Northwest had 31 positive cases of COVID-19 currently among inpatients, over a 50% increase from the last COVID-19 briefing. 13 of the current cases are in the ICU, with four on ventilators. Five people were reported to have died of COVID-19 in July.

The ICU at Northwest, according to Dr. Weis, has needed to expand to accommodate patients. Along with a more varied population of people becoming infected with the Delta variant, including children and maternity ward patients, viruses such as RSV have been found in both children and adults out of season. An array of respiratory viruses have been very prevalent over this summer, making testing and treatment more difficult.

Dr. Weis also reported that five staff members at Northwest have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two days, none of which were vaccinated. 16 staff members are currently quarantined.

For BSA, Dr. Weis reported that as of Monday 61 patients were hospitalized for COVID-19. 13 were reported on ventilators, out of 26 of those COVID-19 patients in the ICU. With a national shortage in staff ongoing, 17 of BSA’s staff members were reported to be in quarantine.

Those in need of services at the hospitals in Amarillo or Lubbock will be waiting “quite awhile” for a bed, according to Dr. Weis, because of the staffing shortage and current hospital capacity.

Dr. Rodney Gonzalez with the Amarillo VA reported six patients hospitalized with COVID-19, four of which are in the ICU, one on a ventilator. 43% of registered veterans with the VA have been vaccinated, a percentage Dr. Gonzalez said needs to be much higher.

City Manager Jared Miller reminded the community that Governor Abbott has said Texans have a responsibility to follow good hygiene and social distancing practices, and heavily encourages all to get vaccinated and follow masking guidelines.

Dr. Bell said he expected a further increase in the COVID-19 rates after the oncoming start of school, an expectation that has worried healthcare leaders across the board. Dr. Weis commented that there will be no RAC nursing staff coming from the state, unlike during the worse spikes in the virus of 2020. He also commented that transfers from other hospitals are having to be declined, patients turned away from Amarillo hospitals due to staffing and capacity issues.

City officials continued to encourage vaccination and social distancing, as COVID-19 continues to spread in the High Plains.