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Officials concerned over COVID-19 trajectory
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Officials concerned over COVID-19 trajectory

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Dr. Kurt Kapels, hospitalist and clinical director of inpatient physician associates for Columbus Community Hospital, had a newborn baby when COVID-19 first hit.

His son, born in December, has lived through quite the year and will have “some stories to tell,” Kapels said. The doctor himself has had quite a year, as treating COVID-19 patients has not been easy.

“Certainly the fear of potentially yourself getting sick is one thing, but you worry more about your family, and obviously your children, especially small children,” Kapels said. “We took every precaution we could to practice safe medicine here.”

But one good side of the pandemic has been spending more time with his family and small child at home, he said. His children are not school-aged and did not have to deal with online school last year.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was tough to deal with patients, he noted.

“Especially with the amount of unknowns. People again can get very sick with this illness, life-threateningly sick,” Kapels added.

One challenge was how there are a limited amount of therapeutics available to treat someone and the unknowns can mean “you’re not really sure if something … would be beneficial or harmful’,” he said.

“It really leaves a lot of gray area when it comes to trying to help your patients. Ultimately, we don’t want to harm anybody if we can avoid it.”

But CCH has learned a lot about the virus since then. 

Another challenge is that COVID-19 hospitalizations are "likely not just an overnight stay," he noted.

Kapels said it’s a marathon, not a sprint, in treating these COVID patients and it’s important the hospital staff encourages each other.

“It’s something that can be more of a grind on people,” he said. “There are going to be good days and bad days, but helping everybody along through it and meeting each other’s needs becomes that much more important because it truly takes a staff effort to get through things.”

Recently, there has been a recent surge of COVID-19 cases, which has left Kapels and the East-Central District Health Department concerned about overwhelming the health-care system.

On Monday, Oct. 26, the East-Central District Health Department recorded the highest number of hospitalizations since the COVID-19 pandemic began: 16.

The department had previously sounded the alarm about the ability to transfer patients out to other hospitals if they fill up, but this past weekend, the department warned health care systems around the state that it could begin to be overwhelmed in the next two to three weeks, which may potentially set off a chain reaction. 

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In the next couple of weeks, hospitals becoming overwhelmed statewide could mean local hospitals have to keep more patients here, potentially overwhelming them. 

In an extreme position, ECDHD Chief Public Health Officer Chuck Sepers said there would not be beds for everyone locally who needs them.

“There’s going to be some parts of the state that are going to start to run into that and if things do not improve we will get there as well,” Sepers said. “Our hospitalizations and our deaths lag about three weeks. So the increase in hospitalizations you see are related to the surge in cases that had occurred three weeks ago.”

Essentially, the increase in cases over the last couple of weeks will contribute to hospitalizations over the next couple of weeks. In Platte County, there have been 246 cases over the last 14 days, according to the Oct. 23 situation update.

Sepers said he hears people say "we just kind of need to let whatever happens, (happen.)"

“Our health care system won’t survive that,” Sepers said.

There are already plans in place for worst-case scenario situations, he said, such as for one of the early symbols of the pandemic: The refrigerated trucks parked outside New York City hospitals earlier this year. At the county levels, there are plans for delaying the processing of human remains, he noted.

“A good 30% of our new deaths have happened in the last two or three weeks,” he said. “If that trend continues, we’re going to have some coroner capacity issues.”

Other concerns he had were stopping elective surgeries, which can harm a hospital’s revenue stream, and school returning to last spring’s online format.

Elective procedures are procedures that do not need to be performed immediately due to life or death matters.

Plus if classes go online, health care workers with school-aged children could find themselves having to care for children at home, he noted, potentially limiting the number of available staff.

Gov. Pete Ricketts recently announced up to $40 million of CARES Act funding will go to hospitals to boost staffing, according to reports.

How that will impact CCH as of Monday's print deadline was not clear.

“When we first started getting word about this illness in China, there was a lot that we didn’t know. We didn’t know significant of an illness this was, how widespread (it could potentially be),” Kapels said. “It’s turned out to be something that was new.”

When up against a new illness like this, “you’re kind of learning as you go,” Kapels added.

“We are continuing to learn about it and how to treat it and how to manage it, how it spreads,” he noted. “We still have a lot more that we certainly can learn.”

Carolyn Komatsoulis is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at carolyn.komatsoulis@lee.net.

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