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COVID-19 surge in Fredericksburg region worries local doctors
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COVID-19 surge in Fredericksburg region worries local doctors

Dr. Michael P. McDermott (copy)

‘We need to flatten the curve,’ Mary Washington Health Care CEO Dr. Michael P. McDermott said about the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in he region during an online townhall this week.

The Rappahannock Area Health District reported 133 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, a day after area health officials implored people to help “flatten the curve” of rising cases and hospitalizations.

Friday’s report marks the third highest daily increase in the district since the pandemic began. The most daily cases, 142, were reported on Saturday. On Nov. 23, the health department reported 139 new cases.

There now have been a total of 8,598 cases reported in the district, which includes Fredericksburg and the counties of Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline and King George.

During a virtual town hall meeting hosted on the Mary Washington Healthcare Facebook page Thursday evening, doctors talked about the status of the virus in the community.

Dr. Denise Bonds, acting director of the local health district, was among those taking part in the meeting. Bonds said the district’s positive test rate was the highest since the pandemic began. That rate was 9.6 percent on Thursday. On Friday, the rate jumped to 10.6 percent.

She called the increase in virus cases “concerning.”

The local doctors also touched on the impact of increasing cases. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have “never been higher,” said Dr. Mike McDermott, president and CEO Of Mary Washington Healthcare.

He said that on Nov. 1 there were 15 patients at the system’s two facilities, Mary Washington Hospital and Stafford Hospital. As of Thursday, he said, there were 60 COVID patients receiving treatment at the hospitals.

“We need to flatten the curve,” McDermott said.

Dr. Chris Newman, MWHC’s chief medical officer, said some of the virus patients are “very sick, ventilated.”

Both doctors acknowledged that not everyone infected by the virus falls ill, or becomes seriously sick. But they added that it’s unpredictable who will need to be hospitalized. Patients range in age from children to the elderly, they said.

They also noted that flu cases are starting to be reported, though not as many as in past years, possibly because of the measures taken to reduce the spread of COVID. Newman said a surge of both COVID and flu cases would be “catastrophic.”

The doctors implored people to stay vigilant by wearing masks, keeping safe distances and washing their hands. They also asked people to avoid traditional holiday gatherings.

They and health officials nationwide have been asking people to avoid such gatherings since the weeks leading to Thanksgiving. Now local officials cite Thanksgiving gatherings for the reason they expect the spike in cases to keep rising.

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“It’s within our control” to keep the virus from spreading, McDermott said.

Newman pointed out that health care workers “are getting exhausted,” adding that the current rate of new cases is “unsustainable” for area hospitals.

The doctors noted that there is still space and enough hospital staff to handle other patients. In fact, they implored anyone else suffering from other health conditions to come to the hospital for treatment, saying the hospitals are able to treat them safely.

But they added that there are only so many resources and health care workers trained to handle COVID patients, and they are stretched to the limits now.

“This is not the ideal time to overwhelm our health care workers,” he said.

Yet the doctors also emphasized that progress has been and continues to be made.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” McDermott said.

Vaccines that will be available soon is one reason for hope, they said. Another is new treatment for those in the very early stages of the virus.

Bonds said if all goes according to plan, the state could start vaccinations later this month. Those vaccinations would be limited initially to health care workers and staff and patients in nursing homes, followed by essential workers and those at high risk for the virus.

One new treatment for COVID patients has already been used by Mary Washington Healthcare. In a news release, the health care system said it administered the “monoclonal antibody (mAbs) treatment” last weekend, marking the first time it has been used in the region.

MWHC said it is offering the treatment to high-risk patients who “meet specific criteria.”

In the release, the health system said the treatment includes Eli Lilly’s drug, Bamlanivimab, and Regeneron’s drug, known as REGN-COV2, both of which have been approved by the FDA for emergency use. During the virtual town hall, the doctors stressed that the treatment must be delivered in the early stages of infection—within three days of a positive test or 10 days after symptoms appear.

Newman said the treatment basically boosts the patient’s immune system. The treatment is free, as the state is supplying it at no cost to the hospitals.

Newman said the treatment “may save your life” or at least help some from falling seriously ill.

The doctors added that there are local opportunities for free COVID-19 testing, with four scheduled through next week:

  • Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon: King George Elementary School.
  • Monday, 1–4 p.m: Spotsylvania Regional Hospital.
  • Wednesday, 4–7 p.m.: Stafford Hospital.
  • Friday, 1:30–4:30 p.m.: Dixon Park in Fredericksburg.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

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