Stillwater Medical Center confirmed Monday that its seven-bed Intensive Care Unit is full, with four COVID patients and three non-COVID patients.
The hospital had to transfer an ICU patient to another facility because it didn’t have a bed for them, Director of Public Relations Shyla Eggers told the News Press.
This comes after Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce issued a statement Friday that noted cases and hospitalizations were rising quickly.
“We are in danger of being right back where we were in the winter with hospitals full, health care providers overwhelmed, and people needlessly dying from COVID,” Joyce wrote on his official Facebook page. “Unlike last winter, we now have a very effective, very easy way to improve the situation: vaccines … 95% of hospitalizations are unvaccinated people. The age range is younger than it was in the initial waves. Fit, healthy people can get COVID, and it can have devastating long term effects for them, too. Even if you've had COVID before, the vaccination provides better, longer-lasting protection from the new variants of the virus.”
Although facilities like SMC temporarily expanded their ICU capacity under Gov. Kevin Stitt’s COVID-19 emergency order, they haven’t been able to do so since May 4 when Stitt withdrew the order and rescinded the state of emergency.
Hospitals are licensed for a certain number and certain type of beds, Eggers said. Without emergency authorization, they can’t exceed those numbers.
Eggers said the hospital still has regular beds available and several of the negative pressure rooms set up for COVID patients when numbers were higher are still ready to go if needed. The hospital no longer has a separate COVID unit but tries to keep COVID patients on the same hall if possible.
But beds aren’t the biggest problem; It’s staffing.
SMC Vice President of Patient Care Services Liz Michael said Stillwater Medical has lost 40 registered nurses since the COVID pandemic began.
It leaves an even heavier work load for the staff that is left.
“Staffing is a major issue,” Eggers said. “We put the call out. We beg, borrow and steal to fill shifts.”
Health officials fear the problem will only get worse if more people don’t get vaccinated.
The Delta variant has been shown to spread more efficiently than the variant that caused increased cases last winter. That, coupled with increased social mixing and a relaxation of public health and social distancing measures, concerns health officials trying to prevent the spread.
Lack of vaccinations add to the risk.
Public health officials have continually sounded the alarm about the risk COVID-19 presents, especially to the unvaccinated as the more easily transmitted Delta variant becomes the predominant strain. As of July 5, the World Health Organization said it had been reported in 96 countries and would continue to spread.
On Monday the Oklahoma State Department of Health released a Situation Update that showed the state's seven-day average of new cases at 691. Oklahoma had 5,617 active cases.
The three-day average of hospitalizations for the state totaled 381with 118 of them in the ICU. Those numbers included 29 pediatric patients, defined as someone age 18 or younger.
With the number of Oklahomans who are fully vaccinated hovering just below 40%, hospitals are seeing the population of patients presenting with COVID climb once again. As it moves across the world, the Delta variant has been associated with sicker patients and an increased need for ventilators.
In a COVID-19 briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the common theme among worsening numbers was lack of vaccination, CNN reported.
More than 97% of the people getting hospitalized are unvaccinated, she said.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who recently said he has lost 10 family members to COVID – in the U.S. and in India, where the fully vaccinated population is estimated at 5.6% – said Sunday that 99.5% of COVID deaths are among unvaccinated people.
But current vaccines have been shown effective against variants, including the Delta variant.
Joyce is calling for people to take advantage of the availability of vaccines to protect themselves and others.
“Last year, when COVID made its first pass through out community we didn’t have the tools to fight it. We didn’t have testing, PPE or proven treatments, so we had to try to keep it at bay with masks, distancing, and shutdowns,” he said via text message. “Today we have a very effective new tool: a vaccine. It works better than all those other strategies, and it is much easier and less disruptive to use. It works best when everyone helps out. Please get vaccinated to protect yourself and our entire community.”