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COVID-19 hospitalizations increase again in western Ky. amid climbing transmission rates, Omicron onset

Mercy Health Lourdes Hospital in Paducah.
Mercy Health Lourdes Hospital
Mercy Health Lourdes Hospital in Paducah.

This story has been updated with information regarding a late-breaking announcement from Murray-Calloway County Hospital.

COVID-19 hospitalizations are increasing again in western Kentucky and beyond as transmission rates climb and the Omicron variant of the virus takes root, according to regional health officials.

Laura Grumley, public relations director for Baptist Health Paducah, said the hospital has seen 40 to 45 COVID-19 inpatients per day over the past three weeks, up from 6 to 20 per day prior. This spurred Baptist Health to scale back visitation on Dec. 28, allowing only one visitor per patient from 6 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. with few exceptions.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data from the end of 2021 shows that the hospital’s inpatient and inpatient ICU capacity was at 71.5% with a little over 50 hospital beds available. A little over half of their 44 inpatient ICU beds were occupied. That was before this latest COVID surge.

“We realize these temporary restrictions may be difficult for patients and their loved ones, but the hospital is taking necessary steps to protect patients and staff from COVID-19,” Grumley said. “As always, we urge everyone to get vaccinated if they have not yet done so, avoid large gatherings and wear a mask to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

Chief Operating Officer Patrick Falvey said Baptist Health Paducah is operating normally at its current capacity and has availability of greater capacity if needed, albeit the primary challenge is maintaining sufficient staffing.

A graphic documenting the COVID-19 incidence rate by county in Kentucky as of Jan. 12, 2021.
Kentucky Department for Public Health
A graphic documenting the COVID-19 incidence rate by county in Kentucky as of Jan. 12, 2021.

Paducah’s Mercy Health – Lourdes Hospital was even more crowded than Baptist at the end of the year. HHS data indicates the hospital had filled around 87% of its 193 inpatient and inpatient ICU beds, with all of its 23 ICU inpatient beds occupied.

Nanette Bentley, public relations director for Mercy Health, said her hospital is also seeing a “substantial number” of COVID-19 hospitalizations, noting patients will be informed if there are changes in date for any procedures.

“Given the current volume in our communities and the severe strain on our staff and facilities, we are evaluating and prioritizing essential procedures and allocating resources and staff as needed to ensure our patients and communities receive the compassionate care they need,” Bentley said.

A late Friday afternoon release announced that Murray-Calloway County Hospital would be shifting to its emergency operations plan and implementing crisis standards for staffing, per CDC guidelines. This means that, among other shifts in policy, Healthcare workers with positively diagnosed with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic can return to work after seven days with a negative test, and that isolation time could be cut further if there are staffing shortages.

Also, fully vaccinated staff who have also had their booster, would not need to quarantine at home following high-risk exposures.

This shift in policy was due to Calloway County’s large case influx. A release from the health department on Friday confirmed that 192 new cases had been diagnosed in the two days prior. Murray-Calloway County Hospital patients could see possible cancellations for elective surgeries and clinic schedules could be disrupted as staff focuses on patient care.

Visitation at the hospital is currently limited to one visitor per patient and masks are still required at all times. No visitors are permitted for COVID positive patients in isolation.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services reported 2,098 hospitalizations, 459 in intensive care units (ICUs) and 237 on ventilators due to COVID-19 as of Jan. 13. Overall, 71.8% of inpatient beds, 89.2% of ICU beds and 36.3% of ventilators were occupied.

The most recent data shows 5,843 new, confirmed cases, as well as an overall incidence rate of 173.57 average daily cases per 100,000 people — some of the highest figures seen since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitalization data in Kentucky as of Jan. 13, 2022.
Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services
Hospitalization data in Kentucky as of Jan. 13, 2022.

This latest surge of cases has necessitated the return of Kentucky National Guard members to healthcare facilities in various capacities. The 2113th National Guard Transportation Company is working with Baptist Health to perform visitor and entrance screenings, meal delivery, materials management and other logistical duties in service of fending off the omicron variant.

“As COVID-19 continues to make its way through our community, the hospital is grateful for their support," said Craig Beavers, vice president of operations for Baptist Health Paducah. "We are thankful to The National Guard for once again providing relief to our staff so they can focus on other aspects of patient care and look forward to their arrival."

These guard members are set to be on the hospital’s campus through the start of April, with length of stay reevaluated based on demand.

This is not the first time COVID-19 hospitalizations have markedly increased in Kentucky. The state saw a 400% surge in hospitalizations in August accumulating over 26 consecutive days, attributed then to Delta variant.

Doctors in western Kentucky have warned residents about the newer Omicron variant, saying it is highly contagious and could overwhelm hospitals.

Dustin Wilcox is a television production student at Murray State University. He graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 2019.
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