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Mohave County health director: Local hospitals strained

Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius of District 2, left, and Mohave County Public Health Director Denise Burley listen to a discussion at a board of supervisors meeting.  (Photo by Agata Popeda/Kingman Miner)

Mohave County Supervisor Hildy Angius of District 2, left, and Mohave County Public Health Director Denise Burley listen to a discussion at a board of supervisors meeting. (Photo by Agata Popeda/Kingman Miner)

KINGMAN – With local hospitals under strain and coronavirus cases rising rapidly, Mohave County Public Health Director Denise Burley delivered a grim report on COVID-19 at the Monday, Dec. 7 meeting of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors.

“Hospitals continue to show a dangerous strain on resources due to COVID-19,” Burley said. “We are only seeing a beginning of the in-patient demand resulting from this most recent surge.”

The number of new weekly cases has tripled in the past month, with a record 924 logged in the week ending Friday, Dec. 4. It generally takes several weeks until an increase in cases results in an increase in hospitalizations.

Burley said the majority of local hospitals reported an increase of COVID-19 patients and being “in caution” or close to a “contingency” status due to a lack of ICU beds and critical care unit beds, she said. The information presented by Burley was gathered Friday, Dec. 4.

“We got our [hospital] update today [Dec. 7] and it’s different from yours because things are changing so rapidly,” said Supervisor Hildy Angius of District 2.

Angius said at least one of those “in caution” hospitals is not “in caution” anymore.

“The situation is very dynamic,” Burley agreed.

Angius said she is afraid county press releases don’t reflect that and they should.

She said she is in regular touch with the CEO of her local hospital and that they have staffing issues, but otherwise COVID-19 patients do better than they were doing a few months ago.

Burley replied that she spoke with the staff of the same hospital on Dec. 2 or Dec 3 and received very different information. The personnel reported being under “a great deal of strain,” Burley said, and that is the case in other local hospitals, too.

Part of the problem is the lack of nurses and other health staff despite hiring attempts and attractive rates being paid by local hospitals. While the county pays nurses about $25 per hour, hospitals are ready to pay double that amount and they still have staffing problems, Burley said.

“Those resources are becoming less available,” Burley said about both nurses and beds.

She said that due to an increased number of cases, her department is being assisted with the investigations by the Arizona Department of Health Services, which has built up the capacity to help in recent months.

Local medical labs, such as Sonora Quest, were directed to go to several shifts a day to reduce wait times for COVID-19 test results, which now take four to six days, Burley reported.

Angius said the mortality rate has fallen in the county since the summer surge, and local media should focus on the number of deaths and not the number of cases.

Angius said there were 1,878 cases and 62 deaths in July. In November there were 1,979 cases with just 25 deaths.

Through Monday, Dec. 7, there have been 7,284 county residents infected with the virus and 253 have died for a case fatality rate of 3.5%, or 35 deaths per 1,000 cases.

“The virus is weakening,” Angius said, noting she was drawing on her conversations with health officials.

A more likely scenario than a weakening virus is better care being offered by health providers, who have learned to better treat the disease.

“We are on the right track. … People get sick, yes, but not that sick. They get better and there are less deaths,” Angius said.

She discouraged her colleagues from any attempts at shutdowns.

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