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‘We’re not helpless.’ Doctor urges action to avoid full hospitals from COVID-19

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Posted at 7:11 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 19:11:41-04

LEXINGTON, KY. (LEX 18) — As COVID-19 case numbers surge and hospitals fill, a Kentucky doctor discussed Monday how the area’s hospitals seem to be headed for a crisis.

Healthcare workers across the country are stressed and trying to deal with medical cases both related and unrelated to COVID-19, said Dr. Mark Dougherty, an infectious disease specialist who leads a team of doctors through Baptist Health Lexington.

Dougherty has talked to doctors in other parts of the country who say they’ve run out of some of the anti-inflammatory medications that have been used to save COVID-19 patients, and some areas have run out of high-flow oxygen machines and a shortage of necessary healthcare workers.

Doctors in Kentucky hope to avoid the same kinds of issues happening here, but it’s impossible to say with certainty what will come next.

“We don’t have a perfect crystal ball,” Dougherty said. “When I look at the data, it looks like things are going to be worse in two weeks than they are right now, so we’ve geared up to try to make sure that we have enough beds available to take care of COVID and non-COVID patients.”

As the surge continues, doctors in Baptist Health Lexington are focused on getting people who are well enough out of the hospital and cutting back on some elective surgeries that might result in a hospitalization, Dougherty said.

Doctors are also working to try to keep people off ventilators through using anti-inflammatory medications and high-flow oxygen machines, Dougherty said. But if the case numbers get worse, he fears there could be a shortage of both.

For people who get COVID-19, it’s vital to monitor oxygen levels using an oximeter and seek help if the levels get below 94 consistently, Dougherty said.

With the Delta variant, the average person is passing the infection to around 8 other people, which is more than with previous strains, Dougherty said.

“If a family member gets it, you’re going to spread it to the rest of your family, essentially … someone’s going to be likely to get severely ill and pay the consequences,” Dougherty said.

On Friday, Kentucky saw 4,009 new COVID-19 cases, the highest new day total since January of this year.

On Monday, Kentucky reported fewer new cases with 2,100, but the numbers of people currently in intensive care units was up from 391 Friday to 429 on Monday, according to the state’s update. The number of people currently on ventilators was also up from 185 on Friday to 224 on Monday.

The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department reported 228 new COVID-19 cases in Fayette County on Monday, the highest single day total since January.

With the Delta variant, it’s become clear to doctors that people who don’t get vaccinated will likely be infected, Dougherty said.

“The choice isn’t between getting vaccinated or not, it’s get vaccinated or get infected,” Dougherty said. “And if you look at the risk of the vaccines, it’s a very small risk of a serious side effect. Listen, hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated, and people who are not getting vaccinated are not making the right decision, they’re not weighing the risks appropriately.”

Side effects of vaccines are extremely rare, Dougherty said.

“It’s sort of nauseating when you see how political the whole thing has gotten, it’s absolutely absurd,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty, who is a Republican, said that Democrats should not be the only ones getting the vaccine.

“Please get away from the politics of this, we want people to get through this and not pay the ultimate price of being critically ill and dying,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty encourages people to move past misinformation and uninformed opinions. Instead he hopes people will try to really look for facts.

At this point, the best case scenario is getting as many people vaccinated as soon as possible, Dougherty said. With the quick vaccinations, the state would likely still have to ride out a few more weeks of surge before things would improve, he said.

The worst case scenario would see hospitals filling up like they are in other states, Dougherty said.

“We have a choice, we can make a difference, we can make interventions, we’re not helpless and hopeless,” Dougherty said. “In the beginning of the pandemic, I think for everyone, including me, it started to feel hopeless … but it’s not that way now. There’s something we can do, and we need to be responsible and do the right thing.”