‘This is extremely serious and we really need people to pay attention’: Health leaders address climbing COVID-19 cases across the region

Photo Courtesy: Buddy Forbes
Photo Courtesy: Buddy Forbes(WYMT)
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 9:42 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2021 at 10:04 AM EDT
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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - Health leaders held a news conference at Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) Wednesday to discuss the spike in COVID-19 cases in our region.

PMC President and CEO Donovan Blackburn, Dr. Aaron Crum, Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass and Pike County Public Health Director Tammy Riley discussed how the current surge of COVID-19 is affecting the hospital and surrounding community.

Riley reported 7,536 total cases in Pike County as of Wednesday morning. She said 114 people died form the virus while 6,561 others have recovered. Of the 7,536 cases, 859 are active.

In terms of hospital capacity, Blackburn said the number of patients they are seeing right now is “not only overwhelming, but concerning.”

“This is extremely serious and we really need people to pay attention,” Blackburn said during the news conference. “You can’t argue with numbers, with science, with data.”

He also said that the load is taking a “tremendous amount of resources”, which not only strains the hospital itself, but other providers in the community.

“We have less staff. We have patients who are sicker,” Blackburn said. “Exponential growth that we have seen in just a few weeks. What’s happening is this is overtaxing our hospital and our providers within the community.”

Officials said the emergency department is overburdened and healthcare officials from states as far away as Georgia have contacted them looking for beds for their patients.

Dr. Aaron Crum, the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer, said they are seeing younger patients, including more pediatric patients. Crum believes our region is at least three weeks away from the peak of the ongoing surge causes by the Delta variant.

“Vaccination is the one thing that will keep people from dying,” Crum said.

Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass, who is PMC’s Medical Director of Infectious Disease, said the number of those infected with the virus is increasing quickly and most of those in the hospital right now are unvaccinated.

He said the vaccine is not perfect, but it is doing what it was created to do.

“It’s called preventative vaccine, and it’s doing all the jobs that need to be done. Cutting down the severity of the illness, cutting down the hospitalization, and prevent ICU admission of flowers death.

Dr. Al Akhrass believes the spread will increase with the consideration of kids in school who are unable to be vaccinated. He said achieving herd immunity to help offset and protect those younger children and their elderly caregivers is up to those who can be vaccinated.

“We need to make the right decisions for our community and vaccination is definitely one of the best tools we have now in our arsenal,” he said. “And probably, in my opinion, it’s going to be the only path to normalcy.”

Blackburn mentioned talks are underway with Gov. Andy Beshear’s office to bring in the National Guard for support for hospital personnel. Officials say there are close to 200 job openings at PMC due to the growing demand put on by COVID. They are also working on a FEMA request to get additional providers in the state and can reallocate existing resources to other places in the hospital as needed.

Officials continue to try to get the public to understand that taking action in the community helps to take the pressure off of the hospitals and prevent overwhelming situations. Blackburn added that the effort cannot be on the shoulders of just government or healthcare workers alone.

“You cannot deny that the vaccine has impact,” Blackburn said. “Please consider what we feel like is the right thing.”

Right now, officials have no major personal protective equipment (PPE) concerns, but say those are tracked daily. The hospital is working with Congressman Hal Rogers and the Governor’s office for potential additional resources, if they are needed.

You can watch the full news conference below:

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