Healthcare officials in the Permian Basin are continuing to treat a high number of patients for COVID-19. Throughout August, hospitalizations for the disease at the major hospitals in Midland and Odessa reached record levels, and deaths related to the disease have reached startling numbers.
By Carlos Morales
In Midland and Odessa, healthcare leaders are hopeful there’s a renewed energy for COVID-19 vaccines that will boost the area’s fully vaccinated rate, which stands close to 41%.
And while the number of patients being treated for the coronavirus has dropped slightly, hospital officials say it’s too soon to tell if the current surge has peaked.
Zoe Kurland spoke with Marfa Public Radio’s Carlos Morales about the latest.
On the slight drop in hospitalizations in Midland and Odessa
Since last week, when the number of patients COVID-19 hospitalizations at Midland Memorial and Medical Center reached record highs, the level of patients needing care has slightly dropped.
But both hospitals are each still treating over 100 patients for the coronavirus. So these hospitalizations are still a strain on the facilities’ resources and staff, even if they aren’t at the record-breaking levels we saw last week.
Has the delta variant reached its peak in Midland and Odessa?
While the variant’s pace has slowed in other states, local health authorities aren’t seeing the recent drop in hospitalizations as a sign the current surge has peaked.
When asked, Midland Memorial’s CEO Russell Meyers said it was too soon to tell.
“You know, I would love to hope that,” Meyers said, responding to a reporter’s question during a press briefing. “But I am not prepared to say that that’s the case. But the signs are somewhat encouraging…clearly we’re happy with any reductions we get. But it’s a little too soon to call that a trend, and to suggest that we’re out of the woods.”
August’s record-setting numbers
At Midland Memorial, there were 31 coronavirus-related deaths in August — which healthcare officials say is the third-highest month for COVID-19 deaths at the hospital since the beginning of the pandemic. The deadliest months at the hospital were November and December 2020.
In Odessa, from Aug. 1 to Sept. 2, Medical Center in Odessa reported 43 deaths. These high numbers are, in part, why we’ve seen a drop in hospitalizations. During a Sept. 2 press briefing, Medical Center’s CEO Russel Tippin noted a decline in the numbers of patients in his hospital’s critical care unit, but that drop was partly because of deaths, he said.
On the current vaccination rate
As it stands, in Midland and Ector counties, the fully vaccinated population is close to about 41%.
Hospital leaders have said they’ve seen encouraging signs lately, suggesting more residents are seeking out the vaccine. In Odessa, they had to restock their cache of vaccine doses, because the demand had ticked up lately. And Midland’s demand is up too, and the facility is preparing to hold a Sept. 14 mass vaccination clinic where they’ll offer first and second doses as well as booster shots.
To encourage vaccinations, the Scharbauer Fundation gave both Midland and Ector County Independent School District $200,000 dollars to incentivize staff to get vaccinated. Each district is using the funding to offer staff $100 for every vaccine shot, which could cover about 2,000 total staff positions between Midland and Ector County ISDs.
There are approximately 3,000 employees with the Midland ISD, and according to a spokesperson, roughly more than two-thirds are unvaccinated. At Ector County ISD, there’s nearly 4,200 staff, but it’s unclear how many are unvaccinated. A spokesperson for the Ector County ISD said they district is not tracking that information.
On the upcoming holiday season
As we head into the fall, the busy holiday season — and reasons to gather indoors, where the virus could spread more easily— is on the minds of Permian Basin health officials.
When Medical Center’s Russell Tippin closed out Thursday’s briefing, he reminded residents to use their common sense as we head into a busy time of the year.
“I guess my last comment is be very careful,” Tippin said. “We’re just pleading with our community to please wear your mask, wash your hands, get your vaccine…”