BISBEE — “Entire families are coming in,” said Heather Gammon, director of patient safety and quality at Canyon Vista Medical Center, at the bimonthly COVID-19 update to the Cochise County Board of Supervisors Friday.
Gammon reported, “100% of hospitalized patients are not vaccinated against COVID-19; 35% of the beds are COVID-19 related. Our emergency room is seeing between 70-90 patients a day with various needs. We are extremely busy throughout the hospital with COVID and non COVID patients.”
It was another jolt to the medical community around the county as they try to deal with the increase in the number of positive cases of the delta variant.
Martha Montano, Cochise Health and Social Services lead epidemiologist, said, “The county had 400 new cases just last week. They increase as the third wave continues.”
An additional problem for the county’s hospitals is finding beds for patients who have been vaccinated, but have severe medical issues unrelated to the virus in need of hospitalization. The state has a surge line, but it is only for people who have the virus and need care beyond what can be given locally. There is no impetus on the part of the state to change transfers even though delays can result in loss of life.
Dr. Janet Clark, Copper Queen Community Hospital emergency department manager, said 68.75% of the people coming into the emergency rooms in Bisbee and Douglas have not been vaccinated. The two hospitals are seeing five to eight positive cases a day.
She said a patient in Bisbee had to wait for 34 hours to be transferred, while at the Douglas hospital the wait time for one patient was 20 hours. A patient with a heart condition waited for nearly 10 hours to be transferred.
Bill Hopkins, Northern Cochise Community Hospital facility director, reported 99% of the patients who come in are unvaccinated. For him, though, another troubling problem was the uptick of positive cases coming from school-age children. In Willcox, there has been a surge in testing. He said a drive-thru testing operation would start Monday. One non-COVID patient passed away at the facility while waiting for a transfer.
Daniel Williamson, county school epidemiologist, noted there have been 508 positive cases in the county’s schools since the start of the school year with three hospitalizations.
Alicia Thompson, director of Cochise Health and Social Services, said, “It’s undesirable to have a patient die while waiting for care. Two people last week died because there was no bed available for them.”
A benefit for those who test positive is the monoclonal antibodies treatment.
Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the treatment using casirivimab and imdevimab for intravenous injection to prevent hospitalizations and to reduce time spent for those who are hospitalized.
According to the FDA, “Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory—made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses. Casirivimab and imdevimab are monoclonal antibodies that are specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS—CoV—2, designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells.”
Breakthrough cases continue to rise as well. There were 165 vaccinated people who experienced a setback with the delta variant in September, said Thompson.
As of Sept. 24, 42% of residents in Cochise County have been vaccinated and 54.7% have had the first shot, said Thompson. Over the past two weeks, there have been 598 new positive cases bringing the total of cases to 13,980 since the pandemic began. There have been 850 hospitalizations and 330 deaths.
As far as booster shots go, Pfizer’s vaccine is the only one approved by the FDA, said Thompson.
Children 5 to 11 also must wait as the Pfizer vaccine awaits approval under the emergency use authorization from the FDA, she added. Children cannot receive an adult dose.
In an attempt to dispel false information on mRNA vaccines, Thompson pointed out the technology used in the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines was first promoted in 1989 and first tested in mice in the 1990s. Cancer research also uses mRNA technology to trigger the immune system to target specific cancer cells.
Thompson reiterated the need for people to be tested and vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus. She also stood by what is now a mantra — wear masks indoors, practice social distancing, wash hands frequently and stay home if sick.