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Rural 'Red Zone' Hospitals Fighting COVID-19 In Communities With Heavy Spread

Mark Cornelison

Hospitals in western Kentucky counties designated as COVID-19 “red zones” are fighting the virus while critical spread hits their communities. WKMS spoke to two area hospitals on their current point in the battle against the virus, as well as safety precautions taken to limit virus spread within their facilities.

Governor Andy Beshear reported record numbers of virus-related hospitalizations and intensive care unit visits this week. However, the record-breaking numbers are not being seen in all western Kentucky medical facilities. Caldwell County currently has one of the highest COVID-incedence rates in the commonwealth as of Friday, at 71.7 daily cases per 100,000 residents, on average. Despite this, Caldwell Medical Center Infection Preventionist Mandy Smiley said the local hospital has zero active cases of the virus among patients. She said when there is an active case in the facility, multiple precautions are taken to limit potential spread. 

"We’re making sure that we follow all of the state and local and CDC guidelines when it comes to our COVID patients. And so we put them in what we call airborne precaution. We’re also recognizing droplets and contacts so our staff is going in and wearing all of the personal protective equipment that goes with each one of those transmission-based precautions,” Smiley said. 

Smiley said a hospital team meets regularly to determine if changes are needed to the hospital’s COVID plans. Potential changes could include halting some elective surgeries.

“We meet weekly, if we need to we meet more often. Those decisions are made by that team as to when we could cease any kind of elective procedure in order to make sure we’re caring for COVID patients,” she said. 

The Murray-Calloway County Hospital does currently have active COVID-19 cases. MCCH Director of Planning & Marketing Melony Bray said the hospital is treating 11 COVID-19 inpatients as of Thursday. She said four patients are receiving treatment in the intensive care unit, with five isolating in the COVID-19 unit. Bray said the COVID-19 unit can be quickly expanded to accommodate more patients, although that hasn’t yet been needed. 

“In addition to ICU capacity, MCCH has 15 beds designated for COVID-19 isolation. There are currently nine patients in this area. This unit can be quickly expanded to 27 beds if needed,” Bray told WKMS.

Bray said an MCCH committee is keeping a close eye on virus patients to determine if additional action is needed to keep hospital beds available. 

“MCCH has a surgical oversight committee which monitors the number of COVID 19 patients in the facility as well as total volume of patients to determine if we have capacity to continue various categories of surgeries,” Bray explained. “The surgical schedule is managed to ensure we have adequate capacity. The decision to stop all elective surgeries would depend on our ability to meet the surge capacity guidelines from the KDPH as well as trends with regards to incidence rate, positivity, and overall volume.”

Bray said MCCH tested 621 people over the last 7 days with a positivity rate of 9.98%.

Dalton York is a Morning Edition host and reporter for WKYU in Bowling Green. He is a graduate of Murray State University, where he majored in History with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership Studies. While attending Murray State, he worked as a student reporter at WKMS. A native of Marshall County, he is a proud product of his tight-knit community.
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