Local health, emergency and government officials re-instituted their community COVID-19 press briefing Thursday, as the number of cases continues to rise locally and across the commonwealth and the country.
While those updates were held weekly when the coronavirus crisis first began, officials had not held regular briefings for the last several months.
Thursday’s session was initiated by McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer and Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless, according to Jerome Mansfield, director of the Paducah-McCracken County office of emergency management.
“Judge Clymer and Mayor Harless requested this meeting to keep you informed of the coronavirus impacts upon our community and to provide information on combatting these impacts,” Mansfield said. “And, I use the word combat because we are in a war against a viral enemy that we must win.”
Those sentiments were echoed by representatives of the local hospitals, ambulance service and health department, in addition to the elected officials.
“In the last three months, we have seen the number of COVID-positive patients at Lourdes triple,” said Dr. Jenny Franke, chief clinical officer at Lourdes-Mercy Health.
“And, at this point and time over a third of those patients are requiring a critical care bed, and about 75% of those are on a ventilator. What I can say is that we are seeing a distinct increase of COVID-positive patients across the age ranges. We are seeing folks that have serious symptoms and the need for increased hospitalization and increased resources,” she said.
“We need to take this pandemic seriously. Before it’s all over, we will all know folks that have become ill, folks that have had to be hospitalized and perhaps even died of this disease. I know we’re all tired of it, we’re all weary. But now more than ever we need to protect ourselves and those around us.”
Dr. Brad Housman, chief of medical staff at Baptist Health Paducah, said the patient census has been steadily increasing, currently hovering in the 30s to nearly 40.
“It’s requiring a lot of resources within the hospital, but we’re able to continue to provide care for those that are in need here in west Kentucky,” he said.
“But now more than ever we need the cooperation of the community in trying to limit some of the impact and the spread of COVID-19. We talked early, and preached early on, about the three basics: masks, hand hygiene and social distancing ... it’s really become an acute problem for us at this point.”
Jeremy Jeffrey, Mercy Regional Emergency Medical Services executive director, said COVID-related ambulance transports have increased in the last couple of months from 2-4 a day up to 10. He also stressed the ambulances are being thoroughly disinfected after each run.
“I would just tell the public it is safe to get in an ambulance. You are safe to dial 9-1-1, and I continue to urge you to do so.”
According to Kent Koster, director of the Purchase District Health Department, a month ago there were 898 COVID-19 cases in McCracken County, and Thursday there were 2,185 cases, a 221% increase.
The health department staff is working seven days a week in a very stressful environment, he said, emphasizing the need for the community to come together.
“It’s our responsibility. It’s all about loving your neighbor and loving your family and protecting them, and taking the politics out of it,” he said.
“I just want to plead with you to begin utilizing these basic guidelines. It’s going to take all of us.”
“Now is the time to put aside any doubt, any political question that you have, and to recognize that the leaders in your community are saying this is a problem and we have got to respond to it.”
She also asked the community to think seriously about having only small groups gather for Thanksgiving.
“It’s a horrible sacrifice but it is an important one because it (Thanksgiving) could be a superspreader. We could be back up where in two weeks we hear even worse statistics.”
Clymer framed the pandemic using a boxing analogy.
“Like the boxer, we’ve been fighting this opponent for five to six rounds (months). It’s been escalating some, but not too bad. Now we’re dropping our guard. We’re tired of wearing masks and we’re tired of our freedoms being restricted, and we’re getting pummeled.
“The final bell’s just down the road a little bit, but the vaccine’s coming. If we mask up, guard up and use social distancing, we can make it through,” he said.