GLASGOW, Mont. (NMB) – The Valley County Health Board held a special meeting via Zoom on Wednesday evening to discuss the surge of COVID-19.
The meeting was held in order to get Valley County residents, businesses, elected officials and organizations on the same page and talk about ideas to curb the spread of the virus.
At the beginning of the meeting, it was noted that new restrictions could not be implemented right away, and if a proposal was agreed upon, they would have to provide the public with an additional 48 hours to comment before official approval.
Health Officer Dr. Anne Millard presented a dire picture of the situation.
“Approximately 10 percent of the people that we test in the respiratory clinic who are symptomatic and come in wind up getting hospitalized. That’s a lot higher than we expected and that’s been picking up over the last three weeks…Just impressing upon the community that there are some very sick people. There are people that we have not been able to fly out because we can’t find beds in other places. ”
In the midst of the rapid case rise, Millard advocated for either moving back to Phase 1 of reopening or issuing a stay-at-home order.
“I know a lot of businesses that do cleaning. I know a lot of businesses that don’t do cleaning. Everybody does what they want to do. And I think that’s reached the point in this community that put us with people in the hospital like this, that are younger people, that are people that are vital community members, there’s people that run businesses, there’s people that run farms and ranches. And now they’re sick and in the hospital, and that’s not getting done. And I think the community needs to do something about that, as well as take care of our other people who could get this disease and get really sick from it. We’ve had four people die so far. I’m hoping not to have a fifth. So personally, from a COVID standpoint, I would like to recommend that we back up a little bit. That we take a four week break and go ahead and make it so that people are not gathering, and people are not doing all of the activities that they are currently doing. So that we can break the cycle of this spread. I am not saying forever. I am saying for a four week period, which should be long enough, since we know this virus can lag by two weeks. And most of these people who are sick and need to be hospitalized come in in the two-to-three week period and stay through the fourth week. That would give us time to catch up on a lot of things, that would give our community time to break the spread of this COVID thing and go back to some normal life around here. So I am recommending that you at least back it up to Phase 1, if not back it all the way up to the stay-at-home order we had originally.”
Francis Mahon Deaconess CEO Randy Holom said the situation at the Hospital is bleak, with 14 of the 15 patients in the facility on Wednesday having COVID-19 and staffing continuing to be a serious issue, as they have had to pay about 500 hours of overtime over the last two weeks.
“We’ve had our own people test positive (and isolate) or be sent home under quarantine for being a close contact. That has impacted us very significantly in our ability to maintain staffing in order to provide the care we need…We’ve had physicians home who have tested positive…We made the decision today to stop elective surgeries in order to redeploy people who work in those departments to the floor to help support the floor and care for COVID patients. We’ve also, in order to address the surge we’ve been experiencing and anticipating, and we will continue to experience, we’ve started repurposing rooms that use to be hospital patient care rooms that turned into offices, we’ve started converting those back to patient care rooms. We actually ran out of available beds this week, so we were able to source some beds from the state, and they will be arriving (by Friday). But we’ve had to go outside of our normal spots of equipment in order to prepare ourselves to care for people.”
Holom added that many COVID-19 patients are having to stay in the hospital for up to 10 days, most of which are on some type of supportive oxygen. And for every patient discharge, they get three more patients coming in.
“And when we discharge someone, that doesn’t mean they are well. It just means that they no longer necessarily need 24-hour, 7-days-a-week nursing care…This has become very significant, and if this pattern continues, we are going to exhaust our capability of caring for the community and have to divert patients to other communities. And as Dr. Millard already mentioned, there are no beds in those communities either.”
Assisted Living and Long-Term Care Facilities
A representative from Prairie Ridge long-term care facility said they’ve been “extremely lucky” and have not had any residents test positive for COVID-19, but up to 13 staff members have been quarantined at times due to potential exposure outside the facility, and that having residents essentially on lockdown for the last seven months has taken a toll.
Valley View nursing homes has not been as fortunate.
“Right now we have 10 current residents confirmed for coronavirus,” said a representative from Valley View. “Two of them we were able to move out of our isolation unit yesterday and are deemed recovered. And right now we have one pending result. For our staff, we have had 11 confirmed total (COVID-19 cases) over the last few months. Seven have recovered…Our isolation unit is full, that has a max capacity of eight.”
Chamber of Commerce
Lisa Koski, Executive Director of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said shutting businesses down now would be detrimental.
“There is no extra funding right now, all the PPP loans are exhausted, there won’t be any funding until at least after the election. Right now we’re having issues with businesses being closed due to contact tracing. Our businesses are struggling already. I’ve gotten quite a few letters from business owner…The business community as a whole, if we shut down for four more weeks, it’s going to be detrimental, and some of these businesses aren’t going to recover. Especially with property taxes coming due.”
This led to a lengthy discussion on what to do about non-compliant businesses that are contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in the area.
“We can practice and practice as a business community,” Koski said. But until it’s enforced, many aren’t going to follow it. I’ve been in places where people have masks on and people walk in and say ‘Oh, you have to wear a mask here?’ And they walk right out the door. So people are on both fences. So until it’s going to be enforced in our community, they are wishy washy. They are going to do what they have to do and go on with their lives the way they have.”
Millard responded by saying they’ve done as much education as they can, and if the Chamber wants Public Health to enforce the mandates, they’re willing to oblige.
“I will say it would be helpful if your business owners would cooperate somewhat,” Millard said. “Because there are numerous ones that insist masks don’t need to be worn by their employees, they let their employees come to work sick. That does not help them. And as far as enforcement is concerned, if you want the sanitarian and me to walk around and start closing people and giving out warnings, happily to do it. If that’s what it takes for this town to take this a little more seriously, and to actually cooperate with the simplest of mandates: wearing a mask and social distancing, which doesn’t happen…If that’s what you guys want us to do, we’ll start doing that.”
The majority of EMS workers in Valley County are part-time. In Glasgow, there are 15 EMTs, two of which are full time. The rest work part time, and many have other jobs.
“We’ve taxed ourselves to the max. We have a few with COVID, we’ve had a few out for quarantine,” said first responder Connie Wethern. Some folks are working like 24/7 for a week, and they are getting tired. We see the increase in possible COVIDs that we’re picking up. We’re going to Frazer, we’re going to Opheim, we’re going all over picking up folks that are sick. They’re waiting until they can’t breathe anymore. We’re seeing an increase in motorcycle crashes and falls, which we didn’t see earlier. People are trying to get out more and we’re seeing an increase in that kind of stuff.”
Wethern noted that they are burning through PPE, although the hospital and the state DES are helping keep them in stock.
Sara Bryan of the Long-Run and Glasgow Fire Department says they have been looking at a shortage of PPE and have also been short on staff due to necessary quarantines.
“Making sure we have enough members to respond to calls…So far we haven’t had any confirmed COVID-19 cases. We did have a couple members that were under quarantine that restricted us from responding to a motor vehicle accident. So we’re trying to limit exposure throughout the membership to avoid that.”
No decisions made
The meeting was adjourned after 2 1/2 hours without any proposals being recommended by the Board, in part because the Zoom call would not let more than 100 people in, and they wanted to allow for ample public comment.
They will hold another meeting in the near future, and hope to have the Zoom issues resolved by then.