Local doctors Brian Bluth and J. Huser III spoke with Weatherford Daily News Publisher Phillip Reid about what treatment currently looks like for COVID-19 patients in Weatherford and the surrounding area.
Below are the highlights from their conversation.
Situation for COVID-19 patients and their families at WRH
Previously, families were allowed to be with the patients in the hospital. However, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Custer County, visitors are no longer allowed at WRH.
Dr. Bluth said COVID-19 patients are coming in the emergency room short of breath, surprisingly low on oxygen and alone.
“If you are a family member, you are waiting outside (of the hospital), and we are trying to share as much information as we can,” Bluth said.
The staff at WRH is treating ER patients as much as possible, but this is not a typical virus. Bluth said typically they can treat the patient’s symptoms, give them an antiviral and have them recover.
However, COVID-19 lingers and patients, once hospitalized, tend to get worse before they get better.
“That’s tough on the family members, but they are grateful we take the time to keep them informed,” Bluth said.
Bluth asks for patience with hospital staff while treating those admitted to their care. Huser said the WRH staff has done an excellent job, but they are limited due to the size of the facility and the available equipment.
Difficulties transporting patients
Dr. Huser said the biggest difficulty in transporting a patient is finding a hospital to take them. Right now, Oklahoma City and Tulsa intensive care units and COVID-19 units are full.
“I noticed this morning (Monday) one of the doctors had to transport a patient to Nebraska to find an available ICU bed,” Huser said.
Once an ICU bed is located, hospitals also have to find available helicopters and ground crews to transport the patient. For those traveling out of state, an air ambulance has to be located, making the process even more difficult.
“We are going to see a surge (due to Thanksgiving travel),” Bluth said. “Please know there are no places (hospitals) to send your family members now, and in a week or two, it will be much worse.”
Social distancing and the holidays
Bluth said right now is not the time to be around people (outside your immediate family), especially with the holidays coming up. Someone with mild or no symptoms still could pass the virus on to another person who will need to be hospitalized.
“You can’t do that to people,” he said. “You have to keep the distance. You have to respect others and not just worry about your own freedoms.”
Bluth said he understands how important it is psychologically to be around loved ones. However, physical interaction could lead to a critical and possibly deadly situation for a family member.
Functioning with precautions
While it may feel like COVID-19 has disrupted normal life, Huser said people still can do their day-to-day activities with added precautions.
“We still can shop, we still can go to the grocery store and we still can go to church,” he said.
However, masks, good handwashing practices and social distancing with the recommended 6 feet is important. Huser said there is no rulebook on how to deal with COVID-19 because it is a new disease, so it is important to follow the recommended precautions as closely as possible.
“We are not going to stop the spread of the virus, but we can slow the spread and avoid these peak numbers like we have seen this past week,” Huser said.
What to know before testing, shortening the quarantine period
Currently, if Bluth has patients who experience a loss of taste or smell, he is telling them they have COVID-19 because “nothing else is doing that right now.”
Those with congestion or allergy symptoms need to get tested right away. Bluth said PCR testing is the best available right now. Results can take as long as 2-3 days or as little as 24 hours. If taking a rapid test, Bluth recommends confirming a negative test with a PCR test.
Those being tested should quarantine until the results are ready. Those who test negative are free to return to day-to-day life while those who test positive should remain in quarantine while following their doctor’s guidance.
Huser said there is talk about shortening the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days. However, if the patient still is experiencing symptoms, they should remain in quarantine until there are no remaining symptoms.
He said the virus sheds the most during the first 48 hours, after which it slows dramatically. For those who recover quickly, a 10-day quarantine period should suffice as long as the patient continues to take proper precautions in public.
Both Huser and Bluth agree the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines show promise, with the Pfizer vaccine having a 90-95-percent efficacy rate.
“I know people are very mixed regarding whether they would or would not take the vaccine,” Huser said. “That is unfortunate because I believe it is something we need to get ahead of the virus.”
Bluth said he understands skepticism at something so new, but during the Spanish Flu Pandemic, scientists made huge leaps in medicine in order to find a cure.
“The same thing is happening now,” Bluth said. “It’s changing medicine, and it has changed the technology being used to safely make a vaccine quickly.”
Once the vaccine has been released, it will be available to high-level medical professionals and at-risk individuals. The general public will be eligible to receive the vaccine once more vulnerable groups have been vaccinated.