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Flagstaff Medical Center reports record COVID cases

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WILLIAMS, Ariz. — With Coconino County seeing the highest rates of COVID cases since the pandemic began last spring, Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC) is feeling the repercussions although officials say the hospital is managing.

The hospital currently has 50 positive COVID-19 patients, up from 46 last week, and a 6.42 percent positivity rate.

“We do have a handle on the influx that is coming in,” said FMC Chief Medical Officer Derek Feuquay in a media briefing Dec. 17. “We’ve been fortunate to get some surge nurses from the Arizona Surgeline and our staff has done a tremendous job stepping up to the challenge to serve the entire state and our community.”

In April, nearly all COVID positive patients were being treated in the intensive care unit or critical care areas of the hospital, Feuquay said, although the hospital is back to seeing the high numbers it saw at the onset of the pandemic, patients are seeking care earlier and in areas besides the intensive care unit.

“I don’t think we are seeing an age shift, but what we are seeing is we’re getting a better distribution of those patients not just accessing critical care services,” said Dr. John Mougin, chief quality officer at FMC

As medical providers learn more about the virus, staff at FMC are also able to utilize better treatment options which has decreased the severity in some patients.

“We just know so much more about the virus and how to treat it,” Mougin said.

Medical providers are now finding success with better patient positioning and delays in ventilator use, as well as utilizing medications such as remdesivir, anti-inflammatories and blood thinners.

“We have more in the arsenal to treat the disease which is leading to better outcomes,” Mougin said.

Mougin said one of the new treatments at FMC is monoclonal antibody infusions, which are given to patients who are not currently hospitalized but at a high risk for being hospitalized.

“If you treat enough people with the monoclonal antibody, it will shorten and potentially prevent hospitalizations from occurring, which is not only good for the patients but for our capacity,” Mougin said.

Holiday surge

Health care providers reported a surge of COVID cases following the Thanksgiving holiday, and expect an even bigger surge after Christmas. The question, according to healthcare providers, is how much hospitalization and death will accompany that spike.

Feuquay said medical personnel nationwide expect to see a spike in cases about two weeks after the Christmas holiday.

“Americans are even more likely to get together for Christmas than for Thanksgiving,” he said. “And it will likely involve some members of the high-risk, older-than-65 age group. This will spread both the virus and lead to at least some new hospitalizations. We’re worried.”

Vaccine

As COVID cases continue to climb through the holiday season, the arrival of the COVID vaccine can’t come soon enough.

Northern Arizona Healthcare is anticipating the arrival of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine this week to administer to medical personnel.

Based on a survey of the Northern Arizona Healthcare’s 3,500 employees in Flagstaff and Verde Valley, approximately half said they wanted the vaccine, so 1,400 doses are part of the initial order to be administered over the rest of December and into early January.

“About half is consistent with what other health care systems are seeing,” Mougin said.

The survey also found that about 20 percent of staff said they wanted more information about the vaccine and 30 percent said they did not want the vaccine at all.

“As we get more information about the efficacy and safety, we are hoping to convert more and more people into that ‘yes, we’ll get the vaccine’,” he said. “The more staff we can get vaccinated, the better we can perform and take care of patients safely.”

COVID around Arizona

COVID-19-related hospitalizations continue to surpass what Arizona saw during the summer surge with 3,925 hospitalizations reported as of Dec. 21. Only 8 percent of all hospital beds and ICU beds are available.

On Dec. 18, Dignity Health-Yavapai Regional Medical Center was at 111 percent capacity on the West Campus in Prescott and 96 percent capacity on the East Campus in Prescott Valley, with 15 extra beds added to the West Campus and 10 extra beds added to the East Campus. The hospital is licensed for 133 beds on the West Campus and 50 on the East Campus.

As of Dec. 18, YRMC was treating 73 COVID-19 cases on the West Campus and 27 on the East Campus; the VA is treating 10 on its Prescott campus. The majority of the patients are suffering respiratory distress, requiring oxygen treatment, with a few severe enough to require ventilators, said Ken Boush, YRMC’s communications and marketing director.

Several healthcare organizations urged Gov. Doug Ducey last week to implement stricter measures to control the spread of the coronavirus as vaccines are being distributed mostly to frontline workers and amid holiday celebrations.

Among the requests are to close bars and nightclubs, limit restaurants to outside dining and take-out service, implement a statewide enforceable mask mandate and limit public gatherings to 25 people.

“The health care system is overwhelmed and on the brink of considering the need to implement crisis standards of care,” the letter read. “We also face the reality that we will likely run out of available staff to care for patients who need our help.”

Ducey has resisted pressure to bring back closure orders that he imposed earlier in the pandemic, saying the current restrictions on how many people bars and restaurants can serve are sufficient. He has said he won’t take action that results in people losing their jobs during the holidays, adding he believes much of the spread of the disease is due to household gatherings.

The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, the Arizona Public Health Association, the Maricopa County Medical Society, the Arizona Medical Association, the Arizona Organization of Nurse Leaders and the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association signed the letter.

Nanci Hutson of the Daily Courier, and the Associated Press contributed to this story

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