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Flagstaff Medical Center responds to high spread of COVID-19
Medical personnel say vast majority of cases are unvaccinated patients

Stock photo

Stock photo

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The recent community spread of COVID-19 has led to the restriction of in-person visitation at Northern Arizona Healthcare’s facilities, including Flagstaff Medical Center.

“As many of you probably know, we are facing another wave of COVID-19 infections with the most recent outbreak of the Delta variant,” said Josh Tinkle, NAH chief operating officer, at a press briefing Aug. 9.

Because of the high transmission rate, NAH now limits general visitation except for special circumstances or end of life situations. For labor and delivery, one person is allowed with the patient, and for pediatrics, visitation is limited to parents and guardians. There is no visitation allowed for ambulatory or outpatient services.

“The revised policies will be put in place to make sure patients continue to receive high-care, and the staff and everyone safe as we start another climb back with higher infection rates,” Tinkle said.

NAH is still following CDC guidelines requiring masks for all person inside in-door areas for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, explained Dr. John Mougin, physician executive of quality and safety for NAH.

“Masking for all employees and patients remains in place at NAH facilities,” Mougin said.

Mougin said the Delta variant is making up the majority of the COVID-19 cases at the hospital.

“Unfortunately COVID-19 infections have not gone away as we had hoped. As many of you are aware we are seeing a spike in cases, with some very highly infectious variants,” he said.

Mougin said early data suggests that the Delta variant of the virus is 200 to 250 percent more transmissible and may lead to 1,000 times higher viral loads than the previous COVID-19 virus.

“What that means is a single person with the Delta variant infection can infect as many as 6-10 others,” he said. “This compares to chicken pox as to the contagiousness of this new variant.”

Mougin said it’s a particular risk for unvaccinated individuals.

“Those who are unvaccinated and are infected with the Delta variant have a 85 percent higher risk of hospitalization when compared to those who receive a full course of the COVID-19 vaccination,” he said.

However, Mougin said a vaccinated person can still become infected, and those vaccinated individuals may not have symptoms when they are infected, which can lead to spreading the virus to others.

“That being said, the vaccine is doing its job and we’ve seen hugely reduced severe infections, hospitalizations and deaths among the vaccination population, both nationally and locally,” he said.

“This time we have a great tool at our disposal to reduce hospitalization and death. And that’s the COVID-19 vaccines,” Mougin said. “This is really how the surge is different this time.”

Mougin said NAH is following CDC guidelines now recommends masks for all people in indoor areas where COVID-19 numbers are high, which includes northern Arizona.

“We’re seeing high community spread currently,” he said.

Local cases

Flagstaff Medical Center had 24 positive cases of COVID-19 last week, which is the highest number seen in the recent surge of cases, according to Dr. Derek Feuquay, chief medical officer for NAH.

He said there are currently 204 patients at FMC, with about one-eighth of the patients infected with COVID-19.

Feuquay said seven patients are on ventilators, however, not all are COVID-19 patients.

“We’re starting to see a pickup again, much like we did in the past, hopefully, it won’t be as bad given the fact that we have about a 50 percent vaccination rate,” he said. “We need to keep getting people vaccinated that’s going to be the biggest thing here, masking and distancing are important as well, but the vaccine is really the key to this and getting people educated.”

Feuquay said FMC has seen few vaccinated patients who subsequently acquired COVID-19.

“The vast, vast majority have not been vaccinated,” Feuquay said.

Feuquay said he wanted to dispel rumors that the FMC intensive care unit was filled with vaccinated COVID-19 patients.

“We test everybody that comes into the hospital,” he said. “I personally had some patients last week that were positive, but they showed zero symptoms. There was a rumor going around that we had something like 17 people in our ICU that were vaccinated for COVID, here battling COVID-infection as their primary reason for being admitted in the hospital, and that’s not true.”

Feuquay said FMC has seen children with COVID-19, but all have made full recoveries.

“People have asked me this question, I’ll say it here, we got my 12-year-old son vaccinated, there was no hesitation in doing that whatsoever, he got through it like a champ without hardly any issue at all,’ he said.

Mougin said NAH has encouraged its 3,500 employees to get vaccinated. However, as of now, NAH is not requiring its doctors, nurses or workforce to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Banner Healthcare, the largest private employer in Arizona, announced July 20 that being vaccinated for COVID-19 will be a condition of employment and all team members have until Nov. 1 to be fully vaccinated, according to its website.

COVID in Coconino County

Coconino County has a current incidence rate of 201.4 per 100,000, with a 9 percent positivity rate. This is considered a “high transmission rate.”

Page leads the county with a 73 percent vaccination rate. This is followed by Grand Canyon at 69 percent, tribal communities at 61 percent, Flagstaff at 50 percent and Williams at 42 percent.

Flagstaff has a 9 percent positivity rate, followed by Grand Canyon at 14 percent and Williams at 14.7 percent.

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