WATCH: Panel of doctors address hospital capacity, vaccine safety at weekly news conference

Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 10:43 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2021 at 4:41 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The City of Lubbock brought in a panel of experts for their weekly COVID news conference on Wednesday.

Panelists included:

  • Dr. Ron Cook, Public Health Authority
  • Dr. Christopher Piel, Chief of Emergency Medicine, UMC
  • Dr. David Gray, Chief Medical Officer, Covenant Children’s Hospital
  • Dr. Scott Frankfather, OBGYN, primary care physician in Denver City

Public Health Authority Dr. Ron Cook led off by thanking health care workers in the community, and by urging sick people to stay home.

“Please get tested,” Dr. Cook said. “Don’t return to work until you know your tests are negative.”

Dr. Cook reminded everyone that the Delta variant is “twice as infectious” as the previous strain, so a person that could have infected four people can now infect eight.

City of Lubbock COVID news conference 9/1/2021
City of Lubbock COVID news conference 9/1/2021

Hospitals, ICUs still full

Dr. Cook said our numbers remain high, with hospitals and ICUs “very full,” mainly of “patients who haven’t been vaccinated.”

Dr. Cook said we currently have 198 patients in the hospital with issues related to COVID, 54 of those in the ICU. 16 of those 198 patients were vaccinated and now have a “breakthrough case.” About eight percent, “about the same percentage that we’re seeing in Texas and surrounding states.”

Dr. Cook said if you’ve been vaccinated you are much less likely to go to the hospital and “If you’ve been vaccinated, you’re not going to end up in the ICU for the most part.”

The average age of people in the hospital is now 55 years old. The average age of ventilated patients in ICU is 47. The average age of pediatric patients is around 10.

Dr. Cook reassured people that the vaccines are “very safe” and continued his plea for people to get vaccinated, including people who have only had one dose and need to get their second.

99% of COVID infections in our area are now the Delta variant.

The vaccine is now available for anyone 12 or older. Dr. Cook expects that age to be lowered to six in the fall.

Dr. Cook encourages everyone to continue to wear masks in group settings, including children who should wear masks to school.

The vaccines are 95% effective against the Alpha strain and 88% effective against the Delta variant, Dr. Cook said.

Find a clinic

The city continues to provide a variety of free vaccine clinics around town. Check the list and make your appointment here:

A free clinic is available at South Plains Mall on Thursday through Sunday from noon to close.

You can also go to, put in your zip code and get a list of clinics near you.

If you’re sick with COVID, you may be eligible for the antibody infusion. This treatment is available at Grace Hospital at 50th & University. Check with your primary care physician to see if you’re eligible.

Delta has ‘changed the game’ for emergency rooms

Dr. Christopher Piel is Chief of Emergency Medicine at UMC.

Dr. Piel said the vaccine had calmed things down with regard to COVID cases but that Delta has “changed the game” over the last eight weeks.

“The people we see are unvaccinated,” Dr. Piel said.

Dr. Piel said there are about 100 patients in the hospital with COVID at UMC, and about 95 percent of those are unvaccinated.

Dr. Piel said patients in their 30s, 40s and 50s, otherwise healthy, are coming into the hospital with COVID, and some are dying.

Dr. Piel said there is some frustration that UMC can’t help the surrounding regional hospitals because the ICU is full, the hospital is full, and the ER is full of admitted patients “because we have nowhere to put them.”

Dr. Piel warned of long wait times for non-emergency patients.

“People who come in that are vaccinated just aren’t that sick, and rarely do they need hospitalization,” Dr. Piel said.

More kids affected by Delta variant

Dr. David Gray is the Chief Medical Officer at Covenant Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Gray said the Delta variant is “behaving different” in pediatric patients.

“We are seeing more kids...and sicker kids, with the Delta variant,” Dr. Gray said.

Dr. Gray said they currently have four patients intubated in the Pediatric ICU, more than they’ve seen before, and they have provided 22 days of ECMO lung bypass treatment to four different patients, which is also “unprecedented.”

Covenant Children’s is fitting rooms to expand their capacity for pediatric COVID patients in response to calls from other children’s hospitals.

Dr. Gray says children have a similar risk profile to adults, much more at risk if they have diabetes, hypertension or obesity.

Dr. Gray is encouraging every child 12 and older to get vaccinated. They’re hoping to have vaccine available for younger children in October.

The hospital is seeing an unusual surge in RSV cases, typically seen in winter, now emerging in June, July, and August.

Dr. Gray also acknowledged a shortage of staff, similar to other children’s hospitals in the region. The hospital is also seeing a surge in children’s ER cases, posing a staffing challenge for the summer months.

Dr. Gray is concerned about a potential surge in RSV, flu, and COVID cases in the coming winter that would impose a “significant strain to our capacity here on the South Plains.”

COVID challenges at rural hospitals

Dr. Scott Frankfather is an OB GYN and primary care physician in Denver City. Dr. Frankfather has been in Denver City for 12 years and delivers 240 to 280 babies a year, seeing about a hundred patients in the clinic each week.

“We’ve had a huge increase in our number of COVID patients,” he said.

The Denver City hospital has 24 beds, with nine currently occupied by COVID patients. Denver City admitted 21 COVID patients in August, many who had to be transferred to other facilities.

Regional hospitals rely on tertiary care facilities like UMC and Covenant to provide ICU and specialized care, facilities that are now full.

The Denver City hospital has no ICU and previously had no ventilators. They now have four ventilators and have had three patients on ventilators at one time.

With Covenant and UMC unable to accept patients, Denver City is having to transfer patients to distant locations, including Dallas, Amarillo, El Paso, Albuquerque, San Antonio, and others.

This presents a serious logistics issue when the air ambulances can’t carry enough oxygen to get these patients to distant locations.

Denver City has tested 914 patients in the last month and had 327 test positive for COVID. 21 of those patients were admitted to the hospital, and only one of those admitted had been vaccinated. That patient was 89 years old, with underlying medical conditions.

Dr. Frankfather is encouraging parents to have children 12 and older vaccinated, and says out of 1,168 local people who have received the vaccine, none of those have been admitted to the hospital.

Vaccine safe for breastfeeding, pregnant mothers

“I really feel like the vaccine is safe,” Dr. Frankfather said. “I feel like it’s safe for pregnancy. The American College of OBGYN, the Academy of Pediatrics all say the vaccine is safe in children and in pregnancy. The vaccine is also safe in breastfeeding.”

Dr. Frankfather said Denver City EMS is understaffed and they’re having to bring in air ambulances to transport patients to Lubbock or Amarillo. They’ve also had nursing and staffing shortages.

Denver City is having to call other hospitals frequently to check for bed availability and manage transfers. Dr. Frankfather said this has been very time-intensive and very difficult for staff on both ends.

Dr. Frankfather also reports good results from using remdesivir treatments to keep COVID patients out of the hospital. Of the 238 patients they’ve given the treatment to, only one needed to be hospitalized.

“If you start feeling ill, seek treatment quickly. There are things we can do to help,” Dr. Frankfather said.

When should people get tested?

The city is currently testing people at Clapp Park, 46th & Avenue U.

Dr. Cook said you should get tested if you’re symptomatic and have been exposed, three to five days after exposure.

Dr. Cook says if you believe you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID, like someone in your family, you should wear a mask to keep from infecting others.

What resources are hospitals getting from the state?

Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Massengale said there has been “a handful of staff added this week.”

‘It’s not the COVID vaccine that people need to worry about’

Dr. Frankfather said many people were waiting for FDA approval and the Pfizer vaccine is now approved.

When asked about people who are avoiding the vaccine, Dr. Frankfather says Denver City has vaccinated 1,168 people. None of them needed to be hospitalized, and there have been nothing but minor side effects like sore arms.

Dr. Frankfather says rumors about the vaccine causing blood clots and cancer are “nonsense.”

Dr. Frankfather says millions of people have been vaccinated in the U.S. and if the vaccine caused blood clotting we would be seeing large numbers of people hospitalized “with blood clots and strokes and heart attacks.”

“We are not seeing reactions to the vaccine,” Dr. Piel said.

But Dr. Frankfather said COVID causes a host of serious issues, including blood clots.

“Patients with COVID infections have horrific laboratory values,” Dr. Frankfather said. “I’ve never seen people with any other disease that have blood clotting the way patients that have COVID have blood clotting. It’s not the COVID vaccine that people need to worry about. It’s getting a COVID infection that causes a huge amount of blood clotting and inflammation in the blood vessels and the arteries that really put people at risk.”

Poison control calls for people using livestock medication

When asked about people using livestock medication to try and treat COVID, Dr. Cook said, “There are studies going on to see if it works, but this drug is not approved at all, even for emergency use.”

“Please do not take it upon yourself to treat yourself with a livestock medication for COVID,” Dr. Piel said. “Please put your trust in the healthcare providers and we’ll do what’s right.”

When to go to the infusion center for COVID treatment

Dr. Cook said you need physician approval, fill out a form, and meet certain criteria before you can get infusion treatment.

Those criteria include having diabetes or other high-risk conditions, including a BMI over 25.

“Don’t just show up, but talk to your primary care provider,” Dr. Cook said.

Get the latest COVID-19 data for the City of Lubbock here: COVID-19: Lubbock reports one additional death, 277 new cases on Tuesday

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