BISBEE — “We are losing as many people every day as we lost on 9/11. People need to take this seriously.”

Dr. Edward Miller, chief medical officer with Copper Queen Community Hospital, spoke to the Herald/Review Monday about the problems the city, county and state are facing due to COVID–19 and the sobering statistics that show cases are skyrocketing.

In a graph he prepared, the figures show from Nov. 1 to Dec. 5 the county had 2,467 new cases of the virus. Of those, 919 positive cases occurred in the week from Nov. 29 to Dec. 5. The drastic rise is attributed to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

With the vaccine for the general population “months away,” he reiterated what has been said for the past nine months: Wear a mask, wash hands frequently, follow social distancing recommendations and do not congregate indoors.

“It’s quite staggering to see the number of new cases. The majority of people are completely unaware of what is going on in the state and the county,” Miller said. “People think that because they’re with family or friends it is safe to be in groups indoors. It is not. Most of the cases are transmitted this way.”

Rob Seamon CQCH CEO, agreed.

“The fact is this virus is pervasive,” he said. “Small gatherings are causing the spread. People should take precautions now. They can gather down the road. This is very close to overwhelming the health care system. We have to get a handle on it.”

At one point, 25 staff members were quarantined due to the virus.

Symptoms of the virus can take five to 10 days to appear and some people can be asymptomatic, but can still pass the virus on to others. People think they are safe when in actuality they are not, Seamon added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a masked person should limit close contact with another to 15 minutes, just in case one has the virus.

“Cloth masks do help protect people around you,” Miller said.

CQCH has seven COVID–19 cases hospitalized out of 11 beds, Seamon noted.

“We try to be judicious. We keep them here unless the patient is beyond our capabilities. And, then, there may not be a hospital bed available in other cities and they may have to wait,” Seamon added.

Hospitals in Arizona are running at 90 percent capacity in intensive care rooms, which includes patients in for other serious medical conditions, Miller explained. Patients needing more care than a small rural hospital can provide are transferred to Sierra Vista, Tucson, Phoenix and as far away as Kingman in the northwestern part of the state. Transfers for long distance runs take ambulances out of action for an extended period of time.

People who came to the CQCH emergency department experienced breathing irregularities due to the reduced blood oxygen level and gasped for breath, according to Miller. Those who need a ventilator have to be transferred to another hospital.

“We have ventilators, but we don’t have the space or the staff to take these patients,” said Miller. “We could shut down our clinics to get the needed staff, but we would never do that. Our staff has been extraordinary in their care of these patients in these challenging times.”

Miller said the patients who have contracted the virus are across the spectrum of age groups.

Miller said the U.S. will need 650 million doses of the vaccine just for the first go-around if the two-shot vaccine is used. The initial doses will be used for frontline hospital staff and nursing home caregivers.

Miller said, “Bisbee had 101 active cases, a 28% increase from last Friday. We’re walking a tightrope and running at capacity. Unfortunately, I don’t see this line flattening like it did in late June.”

The only good news is that 92 percent of the people who contract the virus do not need special care and can recover at home, he said.

For those in the hospital in isolation, family and friends, who have been screened by a temperature check and questions, can talk to their loved ones, though it is through glass. Those patients who are dying are allowed to see family, but those family members must then quarantine themselves.

Seamon noted, “We need to get the word out. People do die. It gets scary. We’re not immune to it.”

Miller emphasized, “We all need to take personal responsibility for our actions during this health pandemic. Not only do we need to follow CDC guidelines, we need to take personal responsibility for our health. Proper nutrition, exercise, sleep and social, emotional and physical needs must be given appropriate attention.”