AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The City of Amarillo’s local officials and health leaders updated the community on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday morning. Topics included the incoming infusion center, Ivermectin, suicide prevention, and pregnancy in relation to COVID-19 vaccines.
Shortly before the City was due to meet, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office announced that in partnership with Amarillo, the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) will launch a new COVID-19 therapeutic infusion center. The center is expected to begin accepting patients Thursday, Sept. 23, and will offer monoclonal antibodies to treat outpatient cases of COVID-19 with a doctor’s referral. The treatment, according to the Governor, will be free.
Amarillo Public Health Director Casie Stoughton followed the Mayor’s comments on the infusion center, describing that those eligible to receive the antibody infusions include those COVID-19 patients who are high risk and within 10 days of the onset of virus symptoms, and have not been put on an oxygen regiment and have not been hospitalized.
Amarillo Public Health Authority Dr. Todd Bell continued the positive outlook regarding the incoming infusion center, commenting that patients who can receive and benefit from the treatment and keep out of the hospital help the current strain on the community’s healthcare infrastructure. Bell heavily encouraged at-risk patients to talk with their healthcare provider about accessing the infusion treatment. He also heavily encouraged immunocompromised people to receive a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Northwest Texas Healthcare System’s (NWTHS) Dr. Weis described himself as “a bit numb,” during the meeting, in the wake of a member of the Amarillo medical community taking his life, and reminded the community about Suicide Awareness Month.
“In the honor of my friend… take care of your mental health,” Dr. Weis asked the community, and encouraged those struggling to speak out in order to access resources for help and mental health care.
In NWTHS, Weis reported 57 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, 53 of those patients he mentioned as not being vaccinated against the virus. 27 of those patients were noted as in the ICU. 21% of the acute patients, said Weis, are positive for COVID-19. Weis reported that the hospital has seen a high, but somewhat steady, flow of 55-65 COVID-19 patients per day for the past few weeks.
In the month of September, Dr. Weis said that the hospital has seen 26 patients die from COVID-19.
In a grim anecdote, Dr. Weis reported that earlier in the week the hospital was down to a single ventilator left available. The only reason more opened up for other critical patients, he said, was due to patient deaths. 11 patients were waiting in the ER for treatment Wednesday morning, according to Weis, with 20 patients in need of care across the region waiting for service – 14 of that 20 being patients in need of the ICU who are not infected with COVID-19.
BSA Healthcare System’s Dr. Lamanteer reported 71 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized, with the flow of patients hovering similarly to NWTHS in its range of 70-80 patients per day. Lamanteer noted it is, “not getting better, not getting worse,” for the moment, and credited antibody treatments as one reason that the rate of patients has not seen a significant rise from its current standing.
38 of the 71 COVID-19 patients at BSA were reported by Lamanteer to be in the ICU, with 18 of those patients on ventilators. Despite the help of RAC nurses and recently hired contract nurses to the facility, Lamanteer said that staffing remains the biggest issue regarding caring for patients.
Despite drug inventory being noted as an issue regarding treating patients with Regeneron, Dr. Lamanteer went on to report high numbers of infusions given in August and thus far in September.
In a solemn note, Dr. Lamanteer warned that medical staff at BSA will not prescribe drugs that have no data nor official support from the broader healthcare authorities, in response to patients and families requesting treatment with Ivermectin. Lamanteer likened the Ivermectin treatment to “prescribing cinnamon,” for COVID-19 due to the lack of data on its efficacy.
The Amarillo VA Hospital’s Dr. Gonzalez reported seven COVID-19 patients, with four in the ICU, currently hospitalized.
Gonzalez echoed previous concern and acknowledgement for suicide awareness and prevention, citing that 20 veterans commit suicide per day. “Too many,” said Gonzalez, despite a slight decrease from 22 per day.
Further, Dr. Gonzalez noted that the VA has begun giving out flu shots as well as COVID-19 vaccines, and encouraged veterans to receive both.
Regarding pregnant people and the recent influx of COVID-19 patients within maternity wards of hospitals, multiple health leaders encouraged vaccination against the virus. Dr. Bell, later on in the meeting, suggested “ACOG” – the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – as a primary source for information about pregnancy and COVID-19 vaccines. He also suggested the CDC and primary care physicians for individual patients.
The city has remained in Alert Status Level ‘Red’ since Aug. 12, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise around the state of Texas, mostly credited to the delta variant of the virus. Tuesday, the Amarillo area reported 246 new cases of COVID-19, 9 deaths, and 129 recoveries. According to numbers from the Wednesday meeting, local hospitals have reported a total of 135 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, with 69 in the ICUs.
Further, on Friday, Amarillo hospitals reported for the first time that none of the 17 COVID-19 patients on ventilators had been vaccinated against the virus. Both NWTHS and BSA reported significant percentages of COVID-19 patients having not been vaccinated, including 94% of the COVID-19 patients in BSA’s ICU.