WILLCOX — This year has been a challenge for Northern Cochise Community Hospital, as it has been for most health care facilities during the COVID–19 pandemic.

Ainslee Wittig, NCCH community relations coordinator, said during the first half of the year getting personal protective equipment was difficult and expensive, but by summer the hospital had everything it needed to protect staff.

The first cases in Willcox started in March and people who contracted the virus have steadily increased.

“In our 2,039-square–mile hospital district, NCCH positivity rates for COVID–19 since the start of November have fluctuated from 19 percent up to 27 percent. The district had a 27 percent positivity rate during the week of Thanksgiving. The positivity rates in Willcox itself have been even higher, reaching 31 percent two weeks after Thanksgiving, from Nov. 30 through Dec. 6.,” said Wittig.

In the county following the Thanksgiving holiday, positive cases reached a high of 575 on Dec. 8, but have been trending downward since. On Dec. 22 there were only seven cases reported. While the figures indicate a slowdown, health workers are wary of what the Christmas/New Year’s holidays will bring if people continue to congregate or travel.

While NCCH had enough beds to take care of COVID patients, it was difficult to have the staffing needed at all times, Wittig said. NCCH has been able to successfully treat patients with high–pressure oxygen, the steroid dexamethasone and the antiviral drug remdesivir. Other treatments, such as the monoclonal antibody medication bamlanivimab, is an outpatient treatment at NCCH.

Eleven COVID patients had to be transported for higher care this year.

“All NCCH employees that would like a COVID–19 vaccine are currently able to receive them. We will continue giving vaccines for the current and coming phases of vaccinations in the next weeks and months, as long as supplies last,” reported Wittig.

“And while you enjoy the holidays, please remember to thank a health care worker, as they are affected physically and emotionally as we continue to fight this battle. Consider wearing your masks when in closer proximity to others, social distance when possible, wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and avoid gatherings,” she said.