LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - While a COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in the coming weeks for frontline workers, the Lubbock County Medical Society knows it will not fix the problem quickly and reminds the community that efforts to slow the spread of the virus are needed to relieve the burden on the area’s health system.
“It’s not just COVID patients that need medical attention,” Dr. Ashley Sturgeon, President of the LCMS, said. “If you have appendicitis or need to be admitted for something similar, there may not be room for you.”
Dr. Sturgeon said transfers from other South Plains hospitals largely remain on hold along with elective procedures.
“Patients that might need an overnight hospital stay as a result of going to the operating room, may or may not be able to have their surgery,” Dr. Sturgeon told KCBD. “We’re having to triage who can actually have surgery, for whatever condition it is.”
For the people on the frontlines, the combination of it all leaves them frustrated and heartbroken.
“My colleagues are exhausted,” Dr. Sturgeon said. “I’ve talked to my friends who are hospitalists and they’re just worn out. They’re tired of telling people that they’re going to die.”
The fear, at this point, remains the surge of cases expected following the Thanksgiving holiday. Experts believe people could be spreading the virus up to two weeks after being exposed.
“This spread is happening from asymptomatic people who don’t know that they’re sick,” Dr. Sturgeon said. “People who were exposed at Thanksgiving may still be quite contagious. So, it’s important if you went to a large group gathering and Thanksgiving, I think it’s not the time to feel guilty. I think it’s the time to stay home and protect others around you for the next week. Two weeks out, we know that you’re probably pretty safe.”
The effort to slow the spread is largely in the hands of the community. The Lubbock County Medical Society sent a letter to Lubbock leaders in mid-November requesting stricter enforcement of COVID-19 guidelines. Dr. Sturgeon said the subsequent conversation with Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope was satisfactory.
“Mayor Pope was concerned that our municipal judges were unable to really pursue prosecution of people who are obviously were acting inappropriately, hosting large gatherings, unmasked, etc.,” Dr. Sturgeon said. “We took that to the next level to the governor with a petition asking the governor to do his part and make the law less vague, so that our municipal folks could really enforce these rules. I think Mayor Pope disclosed other ways that they had been trying to kind of counter these large group activities.”
Dr. Sturgeon told KCBD that the prospect of a vaccine is good news and provides some hope, especially that healthcare workers can protect their families from the virus contracted while on the job.
“I think it will at least give us light,” Dr. Sturgeon said. “I think it’s not going to fix the problem for good, but I think it will at least ease our burden a little bit. We’ve been praying for this vaccine for a long time. I think if we can just take a load off some of these doctors who are having to work so hard, it would be a huge blessing.”
Doctors like Dr. Juan Fitz are putting their lives on the line to care for their community. The Lubbock County Medical Society is working to raise money for the Juan Francisco Fitz, M.D. Memorial Scholarship to carry on his legacy of service.
“Dr. Fitz was a Texas Tech Health Sciences Center alumnus, and he was a veteran. He was a hero in so many ways,” Dr. Sturgeon said. “When he died from COVID, it really shook a lot of us. He was a mentor to me in the Lubbock County Medical Society, when I started in it 15 years ago, and I really want to see his legacy honored. I think legacy is such a great word, because I want the medical students who get this scholarship years from now to look back and say, ‘Wow, he was a real hero.’ He truly died in the line of duty and taking care of patients.”
Students attending the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine are eligible with preference given to students who are members of the Latino Medical Student Association of Medical Spanish Club.
The goal is to raise at least $25,000. Donations can be made by clicking here.