WEATHERFORD — After recording 30 more new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, Palo Pinto County health experts say they are still working to treat patients — the majority of who are unvaccinated — while managing the surge at Palo Pinto General Hospital.
“We all know vaccination doesn’t prevent infection entirely, but patients that are fully vaccinated are less sick by and large and we’re able to treat most of those patients at home,” Dr. John Jones, of emergency management at PPGH, said. “I’m told that only two patients that we’ve hospitalized were vaccinated.”
PPGH has struggled to keep up with the rising number of cases that include the Delta variant. The reason? These are sicker patients, Jones said.
“The biggest difference is the rate of rise, and the Delta variant seems to have a shorter incubation period,” he said.
Jones said previously, the incubation period was about six days from the time of exposure until symptoms occurred. Now, they’re seeing three to four days.
“It’s also more contagious,” he said. “Previously, an individual could infect another two people. With the Delta variant, an individual can infect up to five people.
“The reason for that seems to be that this variant grows faster, so there’s a higher viral load, and more virus per droplet.”
Palo Pinto General Hospital CEO Ross Korkmas said the hospital has taken steps to make sure patients are kept quarantined, including a COVID unit with negative pressure machines and filters to keep the virus from spreading through the air.
PPGH is also asking all visitors to wear a mask and limiting general visitation to one person, or two caregivers for labor and deliveries.
“Our COVID unit is not an option for visitors, unless it’s an end-of-life situation, and then we’ll try and work with the families,” Korkmas said. “We’ve postponed all elective procedures for the most part, and we’ve had to disperse some of the nurses [from surgical] to help in the ER or on the floor administering antibody treatments.”
Transferring patients to a higher level of care is also becoming more of an issue as the hospital fills up.
“You all remember trying to flatten the curve?” Jones said. “This curve is not flat at all and it’s rapidly rising. Finding beds and staff for this many folks has been difficult.”
PPGH is offering regular vaccines of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson from 9-10 a.m. Monday and Tuesday, noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays, 9-10 a.m. Thursdays and 6-7 p.m. Fridays.
Boosters are also available, which Jones recommends for anyone who may be immunosuppressed, such as cancer patients, those with organ transplants, people with HIV or anyone who may be on medication which causes immunosuppression. PPGH has boosters for both Moderna and Pfizer.
“With the booster, whatever [vaccine] you had the first time, it should be the same, so make sure to bring your vaccine card so you know what you got,” Jones said.
Those ages 12 and up are eligible to receive the vaccine. Jones said those who have already had COVID can still get the vaccine, though he recommends waiting about six weeks from the time of recovery.
“The degree of immunity you get [from having COVID] is significant, but it’s boosted by getting the vaccine as well,” he said.
While Jones and Korkmas said they’re happy to provide the best treatment possible to residents, they highly encourage vaccinations as prevention measures.
“This disease is destroying lives and families, and if we can prevent it, it’s far more valuable than spending thousands of dollars trying to treat it,” Jones said, adding a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’”