With local hospitalizations at an all-time high since the pandemic began, local officials are scrambling and looking for answers.
Nineteen patients were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Park County as of Saturday night, the highest mark since the pandemic began, at a rate of 67 per 100,000 residents, which is 42% higher than the state average and 63% higher than the national average. This number doesn’t count patients who were sent to other hospitals for more severe-level care. There were no intensive care unit beds open.
Due to the massive backlog of patients, Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin and Bill Crampton, Park County Public Health Nurse, said certain other types of care are being rationed, with some patients waiting up to eight hours for care in one example Crampton provided.
“I have personally kept patients at the ER in Powell (Valley Healthcare) many hours longer than I should of after car accidents, heart attacks, pneumonia, decompensated congestive heart failure – because there is no hospital that will accept them,” Billin said.
Billin said when most local patients get to the point where they need to put on a ventilator they’re moved to a hospital outside the area. At St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, he said it was at 100% capacity with 74 patients waiting for admittance into the emergency clinic one recent day.
“That means you’re sick enough to be in the hospital but there’s no bed upstairs for you,” Billin said, adding those patients were forced to stay on a gurney for multiple days in a row.
Billin said many of these patients were kept overnight and the ER was turned into a “mini-ICU” in order for those patients to get care.
He said the strain is particularly being felt at smaller hospitals like Cody Regional Health and Powell Valley, where these facilities are now being forced to take care of sicker patients than they normally would.
Billin said those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from a COVID-19 infection diagnosed within the last 90 days do not need to quarantine after a significant exposure if they remain asymptomatic, but should monitor their symptoms closely. If they become symptomatic they should quarantine and be tested for COVID-19.
Tracking the trends
Billin said it’s particularly hard to capture data from elderly patients, who often have poor memory and can’t remember if they’ve been vaccinated and, if so, how many doses they’ve received.
Although his data is unofficial, Crampton said Park County Public Health contact tracers are reporting 1-5% of positive cases to be vaccinated subjects, a phenomenon known as “breakthrough infections.”
“A percentage of those (vaccinated people) are going to the hospital,” Crampton said.
Billin said although the local sample sizes are still not large enough to be truly accurate, his data recently showed five of 373 new infections in Park County being second infections, and 2.2% among fully vaccinated people.
Last month the CDC was reporting lower numbers, with .02% of all infections belonging to vaccinated people. Also, at that time more than 90% of patients hospitalized with COVID were unvaccinated.
The CDC reported of the 183 million people fully vaccinated in the United States, 1,507 have died from the virus, a rate of .000008%.
Throughout the country, a consistent correlation can be found between high vaccination rates and low hospitilizations for the virus.
A total of 55.4% of Americans are fully vaccinated. In Park County that number is 37%, about 4% below the state average
Billin said he is working to develop local data on hospitalized patients and who are and who are not vaccinated.
“We feel it will really help with public confidence in vaccines,” he said.
The CDC reports vaccine effectiveness at 90% after two doses, and 80% after one. Another CDC study showed only 80% effectiveness in preventing COVID-19–related hospitalization among adults 65 years and older, compared to 95% among adults aged 18-64 years.