As the number of COVID-19 patients rises in Northern and Central Arizona hospitals, Northern Arizona Healthcare officials say they are able to manage the situation for now, but that could change quickly.
At the time of publication, Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC) is treating 34 COVID-19 patients with 12 cases pending and hospital capacity, including critical care capacity around 60%. Verde Valley Medical Center (VVMC) is reporting 22 COVID-19 patients, also with its capacity hovering at 60%.
VVMC Chief Administrative Officer Ron Haase says the hospital’s previous highest number of COVID-19 cases was 21. In a media briefing Wednesday, Nov. 18, he said, “We are very concerned. We have been doing this for a while and we are ready for what may come, at least to the degree that we can be.”
In Flagstaff, Chief Medical Officer Derek Feuquay said FMC is seeing more cases now than at the end of June, during its second surge. The first surge was marked in March and April. “We still have patients from the Navajo and Hopi Nation, but we definitely have more in Flagstaff than we have ever had.”
“It’s been very clear that the surge is coming again,” said Chief Administrative Officer Josh Tinkle. “We are taking appropriate steps to heighten visitor restrictions again for the safety of patients and staff members.”
Healthcare officials in both Flagstaff and the Verde Valley say they are seeing a spike in the number of people testing positive between the ages of 20 and 40. They also are seeing positive tests in children. However, those in the ICU continue to be primarily elderly patients. “Obesity and diabetes seem to be a big contributing factor for those hospitalized,” said Feuquay.
Northern Arizona Healthcare CEO and President Flo Spyrow says the medical community continues to be concerned about Coconino and Yavapai counties and the effect on the communities.
“The biggest challenge here and across the country is finding the staffing to take care of those patients,” said Tinkle, noting that nurses are leaving the profession and 20,000 nursing requests have been submitted throughout the U.S. “Everyone is looking for caregivers. We’re okay, but if we see spikes up to 50-60% positivity rate that we’re seeing in other states, that would be a challenge for us.”
The media briefing came in the wake of news that 905 Mayo Clinic employees in the Midwest had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Most of the exposure is said to have happened in the community, not at work.
“I’m more concerned about our employees than a significant surge of patients,” said Spyrow. “The first time [there was a surge], the incidence rates where our employees lived were very low. Those incidence rates are going up. We’re now concerned about staffing and the ability to care for patients in critical areas.”
However, recent vaccine announcements by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca offer hope, with the first supply of doses possibly available this month. With efficacy rates reported up to 90% or better, FMC Chief Quality Officer John Mougin calls the news “very, very encouraging.” He says healthcare leaders around the state currently are reviewing the safety data and details about potential side effects.
“The vaccine will be distributed in phases,” Mougin said, noting that medical and essential workers and high-risk individuals will receive the vaccine first. “We may see as many as 30 million patients vaccinated by the end of January. This could change the landscape around COVID for the whole country.”
The great unknown is what will happen during the holiday season. Healthcare officials urge people to avoid gatherings – especially large ones – eat outside, sterilize high-touch areas, get tested, be especially careful around the elderly, continue masking and washing hands, and stay home if they are sick.
“With the trajectory we are on now, December and January would be the peak,” said Tinkle. “We are asking the community to social distance, wash hands, wear masks. That will help us out more than anything. If everyone social distances, we may be able to push that [peak] out further. If we are not successful, if there’s a massive surge like is happening elsewhere, staffing will be extremely challenging for every hospital across the country.” FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN