AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The City of Amarillo scheduled its regularly-held COVID-19 briefing for the community, set to begin at 11 a.m. on Nov. 17.
The latest COVID-19 case numbers from the Amarillo area can be found here.
Amarillo Public Health Department Director Casie Stoughton greeted the community with well-wishes for Thanksgiving, but reported that the “numbers aren’t going in the right direction” regarding the spread of COVID-19 through the High Plains. Whereas during the last briefing health leaders were optimistic to the point of predicting the area would move out of its Level ‘Red’ status within the next few weeks – now those leaders were disappointed to report that the area has instead seen rising case numbers.
Stoughton mentioned that it “feels like we’ve been here before,” on the precipice of the holiday season, with the threat of a COVID-19 case number surge being worsened by cold weather and gatherings for celebration. She recommended that everyone eligible, now including children, be vaccinated against COVID-19 and continue to wear masks in indoor public settings.
Stoughton also reported that COVID-19 vaccinations and other services have been made available in the main building of the Amarillo Health Department while its annex building next door undergoes renovations.
Amarillo Public Health Authority Dr. Todd Bell was similarly disappointed in his report, commenting that the previous optimism of community leaders had been proven “unfounded.” While he said the community will need to wait to see how the higher transmission rate will impact local hospitals, he offered that the use of monoclonal antibody treatments and a high number of vaccinated people, or those who have additional natural immunity from previous infection, may allow local hospitals to not be entirely overwhelmed with severely infected COVID-19 patients.
Natural immunity through infection or re-infection, said Bell, is far less effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19 than immunity due to the vaccine, according to recent data. Because of this, he not only highlighted the increased importance of everyone eligible to be vaccinated, but also encouraged community members to wear masks in groups mixed between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Further, he noted that those holding holiday gatherings with family and friends should work to keep their homes well-ventilated to help minimize the risk of transmitting COVID-19.
A joyful holiday should not lead to a January funeral, according to Bell, and that could be less likely with proper vaccination and precautions in the coming weeks.
Northwest Texas Healthcare System’s (NWTH) Dr. Brian Weis also reported to be discouraged. The community is “not out of the woods yet” as the holiday season approaches and around 14 states across the country have seen rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.
NWTH reported that while there were 28 people hospitalized with COVID-19 last week, Wednesday morning there were 42. Eight of those total patients, said Weis, were vaccinated. None of the vaccinated patients have ended up among the 16 COVID-19 patients in the ICU, with 10 of that number on ventilators. Eight deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in NWTH since the beginning of November.
With travel and state-supplied nurses leaving, expected to be completely gone in the beginning of December, Weis said the biggest concern for NWTH has continued to be staffing. There were 10 patients waiting for care in the ER Wednesday morning, he said, and 11 patients around the region that have been unable to be transferred to the hospital due to a lack of staff and capacity.
Weis encouraged the community to “make vaccines a priority,” and contended that the greatest gift one could give this holidays season was protection for oneself and loved ones.
BSA Healthcare System’s (BSA) Dr. Michael Lamanteer shared both the concerns and priorities with other health leaders.
BSA reported that it has been unable to drop below around 30 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the last stretch of time, with 56 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Monday morning. With eight new admissions Tuesday alone, COVID-19 patients have occupied 18% of the total hospital census. 16 COVID-19 patients were reported to be in the ICU, with eight of those on ventilators. 93% of the total number of COVID-19 patients, said Lamanteer, were not vaccinated.
Lamanteer went on to say that a large concern remains staffing, as well as the looming threat of flu season. While flu cases in the hospital have been minimal so far, Lamanteer noted “the question is when,” regarding a flu season expected to increase the overall burden COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses have placed on the healthcare system.
While he said he was hopeful about promising recent medications for preventing and treating COVID-19, Lamanteer insisted that vaccination against COVID-19 was “overwhelmingly the best option” to protect against severe cases of COVID-19 that lead to hospitalization and risk death.
Later on, Lamanteer also shared NWTH’s concerns for staffing. He said that without the dozens of contract nurses and respiratory therapists currently assisting BSA, the hospital would not be able to run. If the community were to see another spike over the holiday season, Lamanteer expressed concern that there would not be room and resources to care for patients. On that point, Weis added that the strain impacts trauma patients as well – with an increase recently of patients suffering from car accidents and gunshot wounds, among other traumatic events, Weis was concerned for staff being unable to handle the burden of caring for COVID-19 patients and an increase in patients needing other services from the hospital.
The Amarillo VA’s Dr. Rodney Gonzalez Agreed with all previous points from fellow health leaders, and noted that boosters and vaccinations continue to be offered at the VA hospital. He also thanked the community for Veterans Day celebrations and services, and noted that a town hall has been scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. via phone or viewable on Facebook.
This story is developing. Check with MyHighPlains.com for updates.