In Nemaha County, a small rural Kansas community of just over 10,000 people, a single nurse triage more than 600 positive COVID-19 cases over the phone because the community hospital where she works is running out of space. to accept new patients.
In fact, county health administrators told the Daily Beast that there was no room left in the nearest regional hospitals, over an hour away either. In recent weeks, the county has seen a massive outbreak of COVID, mainly, doctors say, because local authorities resisted a July order from the governor ordering counties to implement mask warrants.
Nemaha finally implemented that mandate on Thursday, but health administrators say it may be too late, particularly because residents still resist masking and social distancing guidelines. The virus has infected more than 640 people, killed five and shows no signs of slowing down.
“Now we are trying to send patients to the next higher care facility which can be hours away by car,” said a spokesperson for Nemaha Community Hospital, one of the two county hospitals. , adding that if patients are critical enough, the hospital will transport them by helicopter to these advanced care facilities. “It’s very upsetting for all of us. How scary how fast [the virus] multiply itself. “
If the lack of beds was the only problem, perhaps Nemaha County could weather the current crisis. But the county faces several different issues, local officials said. The entire county is short of nurses and doctors to treat the patients because they too have been infected with the virus. The situation has become so dire that Nemaha Community Hospital is currently developing an overflow ward with dormitories for staff who may be infected but who are asymptomatic and must work in the coronavirus wing.
Over the past three weeks, rural communities across America have been ravaged by coronavirus like Nemaha, overcrowding of testing centers and overfilling of cash-strapped hospitals. In hot spot counties of Wisconsin, North Dakota, California and Kansas, health administrators say they have run out of space for critically ill patients and are experiencing staff shortages that are starting affect the quality of care. In North Dakota, the situation has grown so grim that hospitals are sending COVID-19-positive staff upstairs – as long as they are asymptomatic – to care for those infected and residing in the facility. A similar situation occurred in New York City during its heyday in April.
“Our staff work hours and hours and hours trying to put our patients at ease. I spoke to one of our nurses on Monday who said it was the worst she had ever seen and that she worked in a large hospital, ”Nemaha hospital spokesperson said. . “Our staff are struggling, but they do what it takes to help us.”
Despite a third wave of the virus spreading rapidly across the country, the Trump administration has been largely absent from efforts to contain the pandemic. And while President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force is considering finding ways to help states fund their response to the virus, it cannot implement any policy changes until it takes office in January. . Until then, states will likely have to fend for themselves.
Since September, Trump’s health officials working with the White House Coronavirus Task Force – including Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert – have hinted that the president has essentially caved in the idea that there was nothing else his team could do to combat the virus until a viable vaccine was available. The task force has stopped meeting regularly, officials say, and the little conversations that are taking place have focused almost entirely on vaccine development and distribution. This prompted Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator, to travel to states across the country on her own to try to find ways to work with local authorities to help them develop tools to mitigate the spread of the virus.
It was not enough for the states. According to officials working on the logistics of the administration’s response to the coronavirus, states have in recent weeks stepped up their action with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Response Administration ( FEMA) for their support. According to a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, 16 states and Guam have experienced outbreaks of COVID-19 infections and have requested federal assistance since September 15. Their needs include medical supplies and personal protective equipment from the strategic national stockpile.
At a press conference on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters the federal government was providing hospitals “immediately” with what they needed on a case-by-case basis. But that’s not true, according to officials working on the federal government’s response to the coronavirus.
States are still required to research the commercial market first before receiving help, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said. And in times of crisis, rural community health officials have told the Daily Beast that it’s not always possible to find the money to buy medical supplies quickly on the open market. “All requests made by states have been and continue to be met,” an HHS spokesperson said. “If a product is scarce, then HHS can deploy the [stockpile] to fill this gap on a temporary basis until a commercial product becomes available. “
FEMA continues to respond to demand for national testing, said Janet Montesi, spokesperson for the department. According to FEMA internal data, approximately 17,300 National Guard soldiers have been activated to help distribute and administer tests in states across the country.
But at the local level, it is clear that more help is needed. In Wisconsin, where the coronavirus situation is about to overwhelm even some of the largest hospitals, Gov. Tony Evers told reporters this week that the Trump administration is not about to help. A spokesperson for the state’s health ministry said hospitals were running out of basic supplies, such as gloves.
“We are fighting as a state and we are fighting as much or more than other states in the country,” said Evers, a Democrat. “About a week ago I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Birx… they read the answers here… can they help me?” Perhaps. But they also report to a president who, frankly, is inconsistent on things that matter like masks and makes sure you don’t have public gatherings that spread disease. So they probably won’t play a political role here.
Without much more funding from the federal government, some of which was supposed to come from another stimulus package, counties have to rely on their own residents to stop the spread. In communities that have refused to implement mask warrants and where disinformation about the virus is rampant, this task has become increasingly difficult.
In Modoc County, California, a small rural county of 10,000 people in the northeastern state, officials once marveled that the community had not recorded any cases of COVID-19. Now the numbers of positive cases are increasing. Still, local administrators refuse to implement a mask mandate or limit social gatherings, which has overwhelmed the small hospitals available to the community.
In Shawano County, Wisconsin, a community of 40,000 people in the eastern part of the state, the local health department is desperate.
“Whether or not we ‘believe’ in COVID-19, we don’t want to be the cause of a person’s exposure to a devastating disease because we may not know someone’s state of health. ‘another,’ the county health department said recently. “We are NOT going to come out of this crisis until each of us has made the difficult choice NOT to engage in risky behavior that exposes us to devastating results.”
And in Nemaha County, health administrators have issued a notice to community members pleading with them to take the virus seriously.
“We feel the same fear as everyone else. We are just as deeply tired of COVID-19 as everyone else, ”the memo reads. “Until a safe and effective vaccine is approved and available in our region, we have limited tools to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
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