MMH talks infection rate, COVID-19 related deaths, vaccine mandate

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MIDLAND, Texas (Nexstar)- Midland Memorial Hospital held its weekly coronavirus briefing Tuesday morning to update the community on its pandemic response. The hospital said it continues to see a declining COVID-19 census and that death rates are moving in a positive direction following a significant spike during the most recent surge. 

As of Tuesday, the hospital said it is caring for 27 patients in its COVID-19 floors. 21 of those patients are “active”, meaning they are still testing positive for the virus, while six others remain hospitalized as they continue to recover. The patients range in age from 22 to 91. 

Chief Operating Officer Stephen Bowerman said amid the most recent Delta variant surge, the hospital saw an even split among patients under the age of 50 and over the age of 50. However, the hospital is now seeing more hospitalized patients who are over the age of 50. 

“We’re starting to see older people in the hospital at a higher rate than we did before,” Bowerman said. As such, hospital leaders are encouraging anyone considered “at risk” to remain vigilant even as hospitalization rates continue to decline. 

Coronavirus related deaths are also declining. So far in November, the hospital has had only three COVID-19 deaths. 

“That’s a much better trend than we’ve seen the last few months when we had 31 deaths in the month of October, 36 deaths in the month of September and 30 deaths in the month of August,” Bowerman said.

While hospitalizations and deaths continue to trend downward, Bowerman said the positivity rate at the hospital’s testing centers did jump slightly this week. As of Tuesday, the testing centers reported a positivity rate of 13.3%, that’s up from the reported 12.1% last week. 

“Still a range that’s much better than the 30s and 20s that we saw for a couple of months in July and August,” Bowerman said. 

The Midland Health Department also reported an increase in the overall number of people testing positive throughout the county. Bowerman said hospital leaders will continue to monitor the positivity rate, but says overall, the rates have been on a “steady decline” for several weeks. 

“We’ll continue to watch that as we have throughout the pandemic. If we see that positivity rate go up, we know that’s going to lead to additional ER activity, it’s going to lead to additional in-patient admissions,” Bowerman said. 

MMH’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Larry Wilson said as coronavirus shifts from a pandemic disease to an endemic disease, the hospital will continue to adjust to accommodate patients, but says we may not see another overwhelming surge, but rather, small pockets or bursts of infections; much like the infection that postponed the murder trial of David Wilson earlier this week as those involved in the jury selection tested positive for the virus just days after a jury was impaneled. 

“I think…we’re moving away from the significant pandemic that we’ve been living in for two years now toward an endemic disease. That we’re going to be living with in our world going forward. An optimistic expectation is that we will not have any of these really significant surges with overwhelming hospitals to the extent we’ve experienced over the last two years because there is now so much natural immunity in the community as well as vaccinated people,” Wilson said. 

So much about this virus remains unknown, which is why Dr. Wilson said anyone considered “at risk”, those with underlying medical conditions, should get vaccinated, “stay boosted”, and be cautious moving forward. 

“This is going to be our world going forward, I believe,” he said. 

With the worst of the most recent surge seemingly behind them, hospital leaders are now turning their attention to prepare to implement a Biden issued vaccine mandate. While court battles are being fought across the county on behalf of private companies opposed to the mandate, Bowerman said MMH employees will be required to get fully vaccinated under recently issued guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

“The lawsuits do not apply to healthcare workers,” Bowerman said.

Hospital leaders say they will follow the guidance issued by CMS which says hospitals across the country must have a plan in place to get employees vaccinated. According to CMS, all hospital employees must have at least their first dose of the vaccine by December 5 and must be fully vaccinated by January 4. 

“We have just under two months to get about 600 employees fully vaccinated,” Bowerman said. 

While medical or religious exemptions may be made for some employees, the hospital said it is still planning on how to review those requests. Meanwhile, CMS has told hospitals across the country they will face vaccination audits and may be hit with fines or have their licenses pulled if they are not compliant. 

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