BARH urges vaccines, surgical or N-95 masks

Beckley ARH Interim Community CEO Jill Berry Bowen and Regional Chief Medical Officer David Blaine speak to the media about the current surge of Omicron in the area. They said the entire hospital staff is working overtime and urged the public to get vaccinated and wear masks. Jenny Harnish/The Register-Herald

Calling the latest surge of the Covid-19 pandemic "largely a battle between the Covid-19 and unvaccinated," Beckley ARH Hospital Interim Community CEO Jill Berry Bowen and Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Blaine urged local residents on Friday to get the vaccine and booster and to wear a surgical or N-95 mask when in public places.

Dr. David Blaine, ARH regional chief medical officer for the West Virginia region, said that the state's high daily positivity rate of 19.5 percent on Friday is a spike from the 6 percent positivity rate prior to the holidays.

ARH providers have reported a 33 percent positive test rate, which Blaine noted is a high percentage.

The new variant Omicron is more contagious than previous variants of the virus but usually presents with milder symptoms.

"We've seen a higher rate of infection," Blaine said during a press conference at the hospital. "However, because we have a percentage of our population that have been vaccinated, the symptoms are milder."

He reported that at Beckley, five intensive care unit (ICU) Covid patients were on ventilators on Friday. All were unvaccinated, he said.

Of the 14 Covid-19 patients in the hospital, nine were vaccinated but were being cared for in an in-patient setting.

"There is no doubt, vaccination and boosters is our best possibility in terms of reducing the incidents," he said. "We have to be aware in the community that there is Covid still present."

He said although there is no mask mandate in effect, he recommends that residents wear masks in public and continue social distancing guidelines.

"The Omnicron variant is highly contagious, unfortunately," he added.

Blaine also urged the public to avoid cloth masks, which are not effective at limiting the spread of the highly contagious variant.

He said that at least a surgical mask, which has a thicker lining, should be worn in public. He advised that the most effective mask is an N-95 mask, which is available in some local stores.

"We know that the cloth masks are just not effective," he said.

Berry-Bowen, interim community CEO for Beckley ARH and interim ARH regional CEO for West Virginia, added that decorative cloth masks may be placed over the N-95 or surgical mask.

"Double up, but make sure you're wearing the surgical mask," she said.

She reported that health care workers see far fewer serious complications in vaccinated Covid-19 patients. 

"This is largely a battle between the Covid-19 and unvaccinated right now," she said, adding, "We do understand folks are making individual decisions in their own best interests, as they see it.

"As we sit here, we ask our community to please get vaccinated and get the booster.

"When individual decisions impact the collective good, we ask that folks consider those choices.

We see a future beyond this," said Berry-Bowen. "Ours will be different going forward, but as we face this new spike post-holiday, we ask that you work with us, as a community, for the collective good, to get this beyond us so that we can create a new normal.

"But for now, please mask. Please get your vaccination and your booster, and please evaluate your social gatherings.

"We are still in the midst of it."

She added that there is hope that the pandemic is nearing an end but warned that hospitals are still treating Covid-19 patients, some with very serious symptoms. Those with co-morbidities such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity are often most hurt by the virus.

Berry-Bowen reported that a number of younger Americans are not vaccinated, and a growing number of younger Americans also have co-morbidities. An August study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that the number of young people with the most prevalent form of diabetes nearly doubled in the United States from 2001 to 2017, Reuters reported.

Young people ages 10 to 19 with Type 2 diabetes increased by 95 percent over the 16-year period, and the estimated rate of youth under age 20 with Type 1 diabetes grew by 45 percent.

"There is a trend, in regard to those that are getting most sick with Covid-19," said Berry-Bowen. "It's those that have co-morbidities.

"We're also seeing younger adults are presenting now with chronic conditions so Covid-19 definitely finds that a beautiful host to quickly advance the illness.

"To me, that's what's most concerning, is the chronic disease, not only in our elderly or more senior population. It is now becoming a factor in our younger population."

Woodrow Wilson High School Principal Rocky Powell on Friday noted that 10 cases of Covid-19 had been reported at the district's largest high school on Friday.

Blaine reported that monoclonal antibody therapy is in short supply in Raleigh County. While Beckley ARH Hospital is no longer offering the treatment, which does not seem to be as effective against the Omicron variant, Summers County ARH Hospital in Hinton offers it for those who have been screened by a health care provider.

He said that free drive-through Covid testing is available Monday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Southern West Virginia Clinic behind the hospital on Stanaford Road.

Those who test positive should quarantine at home at least five days from the test date. He said they may call their primary care provider for guidance on treatment.

If a patient has no symptoms on Day 5, CDC recommends that the patient may come out of quarantine. Those who still have lingering symptoms should test again and take an additional five days to recover before leaving quarantine.

He said that symptoms would include fever, lower respiratory illness, shortness of breath and a cough with mucus.

The Beckley hospital saw a concerning surge in the Emergency Department right after Christmas, said Blaine.

Visitation is permitted in the hospital but is currently limited. Visitors must wear a surgical grade mask.

Berry-Bowen said that Beckley ARH staff have worked around the clock to provide care to patients, including Covid-19 patients.

"I will tell you, we are in a community of health care heroes, EMS, home health, housekeepers," she said.

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