AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Amid rising COVID-19 rates, hospitals struggling to care for patients, and the launch of the COVID-19 booster shot effort with the Public Health Department, the City of Amarillo briefed the community at 11 a.m.
According to Amarillo Public Health Director Casie Stoughton, the Department itself was busy Wednesday morning with a mixture of back-to-school vaccinations as well as the beginning of the COVID-19 booster shot availability.
Stoughton reported that as of Aug. 17 there have been 38,235 total cases of COVID-19 throughout Potter and Randall Counties. Around 2,877 cases were reported as active, with a total of around 790 deaths.
The Area Hospitalization Rate surpassed 15% into 15.51% Tuesday. After seven days of the area remaining over 15%, the Amarillo area will be considered an area of “high hospitalization.”
COVID-19 cases have continued to increase, with an average of over 220 new patients per day. The community remains in Level ‘Red’ Status, according to Stoughton, and will be so for at least the next week.
With a somber outlook, Dr. Todd Bell, Amarillo’s Public Health Authority, predicted that the latest surge of COVID-19 is only just beginning, with local schools going back into session and the rates of the virus transmission in the area continuing to increase. He advised the community to hold personal responsibility in very high regard.
Northwest Texas Healthcare System’s (NWTH) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Weis commented that he was ‘very sad’ Wednesday, as three patients have died of COVID-19 in NWTH since the beginning of August. With 46 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, eight other patients waiting in the ER for service, and 34 critical patients in the region waiting for the opportunity to transfer to Amarillo for care, Weis asked residents to “please keep yourself safe.”
BSA Healthcare System’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Lamanteer agreed with other medical leaders on the anxiety felt for the community amid the latest COVID-19 surge. With 78 patients hospitalized at BSA with COVID-19, up from the low 50’s last week, Lamanteer said the situation is “very concerning.”
From the 78 COVID-19 patients at BSA, Lamanteer said 32 are in the ICU, 22 of that number on ventilators. 26 out of a total of 45 ventilators at BSA are in use, and 46 out of 48 ICU beds. The respiratory triage center run through BSA has also seen a significant increase in those seeking treatment.
34 staff members from BSA have been quarantined for COVID-19 infection or exposure. With 43 travel nurses having been collected and some support staff from the RAC (9 respiratory therapists and five nurses), Lamanteer said that the help has been much appreciated. However, staffing shortages and hospitals running out of room and resources to care for patients has significantly stressed the healthcare system.
Lamanteer warned that those without a minimum level of vaccination against COVID-19 appear to be at significantly more, “extremely high” risk of severe complications from the virus and its variants such as delta.
Dr. Rodney Gonzalez of the Amarillo VA reported two COVID-19 patients, both of which are in ICU and one on ventilator, currently in the care of the hospital. Gonzalez also encouraged vaccination and booster shots for veterans, veteran caregivers, and families through appointments made with the VA.
In a side note, Gonzalez mentioned the ongoing situation with Afghanistan, which he said has been impacting veterans both from the War on Terror and back towards the Vietnam War. He encouraged veterans to reach out for help with the resources of the VA, and reminded that a crisis hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
Amarillo City Manager Jared Miller announced that “operational adjustments” will be coming for city services. While no cutbacks are expected for outdoor and sports or Civic Center events, some facilities for the City will be shifting to curbside service.
Even if the Area Hospitalization Rate for Amarillo remains over 15% for past seven days, however, Miller said that in accordance to GA 38 no community or occupancy restrictions will be set in place.
All city leaders encourage others to practice social distancing, consistent hygiene practices, and vaccination against COVID-19.