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Fredericksburg-area hospitals paint grim picture of COVID-19 infections
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Fredericksburg-area hospitals paint grim picture of COVID-19 infections

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Hospitalized patients, vaccinated and unvaccinated (copy)

During a recent town hall session, Mary Washington Healthcare officials didn’t just stress that the majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

They painted a picture of it. The team provided a graphic with stick people representing each patient. The green ones stood for the vaccinated, the gold, unvaccinated, and the chart was dominated by the color of dark honey.

“I think this picture is worth a thousand words,” said Dr. Mike McDermott, CEO of the health care system. “You can see this hospital trend we’re currently seeing is largely among unvaccinated individuals.”

MWHC plans to update the graphic twice weekly on its Facebook page. As of Tuesday, there were 63 people being treated for COVID-19 issues at Mary Washington Hospital and Stafford Hospital, and those who had not been vaccinated represented:

  • 54 of 63 inpatients
  • 9 of 10 people in intensive care
  • All five patients on ventilators
  • 33 of 37 patients under 65
  • 21 of 26 people over 65.

Mary Washington Healthcare held regular townhalls last winter during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the pandemic’s peak, about 100 people were hospitalized for virus symptoms at Mary Washington Hospital, Stafford Hospital and Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center.

As of Wednesday, there were 80 people hospitalized in those same three facilities, according to the Rappahannock Area Health District. It covers Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

Having more COVID-19 patients in hospitals not only impacts the doctors and nurses who treat them, but also affects the care of other patients who’ve had strokes or heart attacks and are victims of automobile accidents or other incidents, McDermott said. Visitors have to be restricted—as they were recently—to curb the potential spread of the virus.

“We could avoid all that if everybody got vaccinated,” McDermott said.

MWHC’s effort to ring the alarm bell comes as the United States reached a sobering milestone this week: one of every 500 Americans has died of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Closer to home, one of every 11 people in both the local health district and the state of Virginia has contracted the virus since March 2020, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

Long COVID—a condition which leaves people with long-term issues—isn’t a rarity, but is impacting 1 of 10 people nationwide who’ve gotten the infection, said Dr. Christopher Newman, chief medical officer of Mary Washington Healthcare. Issues from long COVID including ongoing loss of taste and smell, chronic fatigue and brain fog, severe weakness and symptoms akin to post traumatic stress disorder.

While the worst peaks in cases, to date, came before vaccines were widely available, the highly contagious delta variant has fueled a new spike. Virginia is facing a two-month surge of new cases and hospitalizations that started in mid-July and “has continued on an alarming upward trajectory since,” according to the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association.

Across the state, daily hospitalizations rose from 195 per day in early July to more than 2,100 per day currently, the association reported Wednesday. Hospital beds, especially in intensive care units, are being filled just as facilities across the state are experiencing increased demand for emergency services and providing care to Afghan refugees newly arrived in the country, the VHHA stated.

For all those reasons, the association has launched a statewide campaign to promote the importance of COVID-19 vaccines which VHHA considers “a safe and effective way to help us move beyond the pandemic and return to some version of normalcy,” said VHHA President and CEO Sean Connaughton.

While an analysis from the Peterson–Kaiser Family Foundation Health System Tracker found that 98 percent of American adults hospitalized for COVID-19 in June and July were unvaccinated, the number of cases among vaccinated people—called breakthrough infections—is growing, presumably because of the delta variant.

Look at the explosion of breakthrough cases in the last month. As of Aug. 13, the Virginia Department of Health reported 4,056 vaccinated people statewide had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Of that number, 233 were hospitalized and 52 died.

Four weeks later, on Sept. 10, there were 20,134 cases among vaccinated people. Of that total, 827 were hospitalized and 184 died.

Nancy Moore of Fredericksburg is one of the recent breakthrough cases. She developed a slight cough and tightness in her chest in late August, then contacted her doctor, who suggested a COVID test. When it came back positive, officials at the Mary Washington Urgent Care in Stafford County said that because of her age—she’s 82—she should have an infusion of monoclonal antibodies.

The antibodies help a person’s immune system attack the virus and clear it from the body, but they have to be given within three days of a positive test and within 10 days of initial exposure, Newman said last year.

The treatment is designed to keep those at high risk—such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions—from being hospitalized. MWHC has been scheduling the infusions for months and continues “to be one of the largest programs in the state” offering the treatment, Newman said. About 100 patients per week have gotten the infusion recently, he said. The health care system administered 36 doses on Labor Day, he said.

“We’ve probably prevented dozens upon dozens of hospitalizations and deaths,” he said.

Then, Newman stressed the treatment is not a substitute for vaccination. It carries higher risks than the vaccine and is expensive.

Moore ended up with a mild case that felt like a head cold. Her symptoms included the cough, one night of chills, a slight fever and a lot of fatigue.

What concerned her most was that she’d been in contact with a lot of people the week before she got sick and didn’t want to be a “Typhoid Nancy,” spreading it to others. None of her close contacts, including her husband, tested positive.

“If I had infected others, I would have felt terrible,” she said.

While she’s passed the isolation period, Moore said she’s a bit gun shy after the experience. “It just changes your whole outlook on things,” she said. “It doesn’t make me want to go out and be around people a lot.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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