LAWTON — Southwest Oklahoma’s top health official had good news and bad news Wednesday when she said there were no available ICU beds in that part of the state.
“Some hospitals are telling me they have to hold patients in the ED (emergency department), and some (COVID-19 patients) are being sent to another location several states away,” said Brandi Combs, District 5 regional director for the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Combs oversees a 10-county area in Southwestern Oklahoma that includes Beckham, Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Greer, Harmon, Jackson, Kiowa and Tillman counties.
Jackson County Memorial Hospital in Altus has all its ICU beds full, including three COVID-19 patients, according to the hospital’s website. In addition, the hospital staff is treating 13 other COVID-19 patients in medical wards.
Comanche County Memorial Hospital’s numbers are staggering, with no ICU beds available. Of the 14 COVID-19 patients in ICU, all of them are unvaccinated, hospital spokeswoman Nicole Jolly said. In addition, the hospital is treating 50 total COVID-19 patients and 41 are unvaccinated. The hospital also reported that it has 24 ventilators while a total of 27 COVID-19 patients need mechanical breathing assistance.
Although ICU beds are difficult to find, vaccinations are on the rise, which Combs said is the good news. The number of vaccinations jumped substantially for the week of Aug. 23 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it had given full approval of the Pfizer vaccine.
“We had a 54% increase in vaccinations for that week of Aug. 23 over the week of Aug. 2,” Combs said. “This is a vaccine that will help us get through this pandemic. It prevents people from being hospitalized and dying. Even if a vaccinated person gets COVID, the outcome will be less severe than an unvaccinated person.”
It’s difficult to predict how many people will opt for the vaccine, but Combs said she’s hopeful more residents will get the shots before it’s too late.
“A lot of people are hesitant, so the more education we can provide. And the more doctors who educate their patients, the better off we’ll be,” she said.
In the meantime, Combs said the Comanche County Health Department is continuing its work with school districts “so they’re armed with the necessary information” to make critical decisions about masks, vaccines and COVID-19 cases involving students and teachers.
“We’re continuing to isolate the positive cases and we’re increasing our testing,” she said.
Part of the ramped-up testing is occurring this week at Cameron University with Marquis Labs from Oklahoma City. The drive-thru tests take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the football stadium, at 38th and Gore Boulevard, through the end of the week, according to the health department.
However, getting more people vaccinated is the only solution to defeating COVID-19’s Delta variant, which has targeted children more than last year’s first surge.
Two southwestern Oklahoma children who were not old enough to be vaccinated have died from COVID-19 complications, Combs said. Details were not available because of federal privacy laws.
Citing the two juvenile deaths, Combs said it is critical children are surrounded by adults who have received the vaccine, so the youngsters won’t be susceptible to the virus.