Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson tests positive for COVID-19 as hospitalization reaches statewide high

CDC suggestions for celebrating the holidays safely

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - During a news conference Wednesday morning, Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson announced she and her husband have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mayor Nelson shared the story of their diagnosis, saying her husband went to get tested because he had mild symptoms of an ache in his neck and a slight headache.

“We were all surprised when his test came back positive,” said Mayor Nelson.

She said she went to get tested when she started to show symptoms, and she originally tested negative. However, her symptoms worsened, and she then tested positive.

“It can be surprising you have coronavirus,” she said. “A negative test doesn’t always mean you are negative.”

Mayor Nelson said she shared this story to remind residents to be extra cautious going into Thanksgiving and visiting family members who are compromised or elderly.

The hospital leaders shared the status of Amarillo hospitals, saying they are at maximum capacity.

There are 112 COVID-19 patients at NWTH, with 44 in the ICU and 23 on ventilators.

Dr. Brian Weis, chief medical officer at NWTH, said the hospital continues to see daily holds in the Emergency Department for critical care patients waiting for beds.

He also spoke about a concerning number of patients in regional facilities waiting to be transferred to Amarillo hospitals for a higher level of care.

Dr. Weis said the hospital has seen 53 coronavirus deaths since the beginning of November, and “this is the scary part” of the rise in cases health care experts keep talking about.

Dr. Michael Lamanteer, chief medical officer at BSA, said the Amarillo Area Hospitalization Rate is currently the highest in the state of Texas.

The Amarillo area has surpassed El Paso in terms of cases per 1,000 persons.

There are 186 COVID-19 patients at BSA, with 85 in the ICU and 48 on ventilators.

Dr. Lamanteer said the hospitals are not at a point to handle this volume.

“We should not be lulled into a false sense of security,” he said, referring to the hospitals choosing not to use medical tents for patient overflow.

“We are taking care of people in our hospitals in places that were not designed to be intensive care units,” said Dr. Lamanteer.

The Amarillo VA is taking in patients from the other Amarillo hospitals as well.

Dr. Rodney Gonzales, director of Amarillo VA, said there are currently seven non-veterans in the VA.

There are 18 total COVID-19 patients at the VA, with eight in the ICU.

Dr. Gonzales noted that COVID-19 patients are currently more than 50% of the VA’s hospitalized patients.

When asked what the worst-case scenario would be in a surge of patients after Thanksgiving, both Dr. Weis and Dr. Lamanteer commented on the staffing issues.

“As the number of patients rise, the loss of staff becomes a critical issue,” said Dr. Weis.

“Even worse than that,” Dr. Lamanteer commented. “Our employees being exposed and not being able to care for folks.”

Dr. Lamanteer also warned that it would be foolish to assume the amount of help we are able to get from the RAC is sustainable.

“There will be a point those resources are going to be rationed to the rest of the state,” he said.

Dr. Weis also said the health care workers have been working throughout the last nine months, and there is a risk of them becoming fatigued and possibly sick from being over-worked.

“We can’t take much more of this, and any significant increase is going to break the system,” said Dr. Weis.

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