The coronavirus (COVID-19) numbers are beginning to go up slightly in Calhoun County due to what health experts call “pandemic fatigue.” Memorial Medical Center’s Chief of Nursing, Erin Clevenger, has been at the forefront for the community and the hospital throughout the pandemic and answered some key questions about COVID-19 and the flu.

The number of cases is rising again, and what do you contribute that to? Increase in testing or people getting relaxed? Combo of both?

I attribute it to people becoming relaxed, not because of an increase in testing. Back in September and early October, even when we were testing at a high rate, we started seeing the positivity rate go down. This means that the number of positives we saw versus the number of people being tested was decreasing. Then, unfortunately, in late October and all through this month, we started seeing the positivity rate and the active case counts going back up. I attribute this to what I would call “pandemic fatigue”. People are tired of living in this environment of masks and social distancing. You start to hear people saying, “I’m so over this”, or “at some point, you just have to stop being scared”. As the public starts to back off on following COVID precautions, the virus is getting the chance to make a comeback.

What does the hospital capacity look like?

Hospital capacity is, unfortunately, creeping back up. It is nothing that we cannot handle at this point. We are not in the dire situations that you are hearing about in North and West Texas. We had a few weeks of very minimal hospital COVID activity, but that started to change in late October, and we are back to having hospitalized COVID patients almost daily.

How much more ready or capable is MMC in terms of being ready for another spike?

I consider MMC extremely prepared for what another spike may bring. That does not mean it will be easy if it happens, but I feel that we are as prepared as possible. We have been in a state of constant planning and preparing since March. We have acquired extra ventilators and other respiratory equipment. We have plans in place to increase our bed capacity to almost 50 if the need arises. We have been allocated medications to treat critical or high-risk COVID patients by Texas DSHS such as Remdesivir and Bamlanivimab. We have been building up our PPE supply in anticipation of the next big shortage, and we have instituted many new policies and procedures to keep our facility and employees as safe and healthy as possible.

What kind of testing is available now?

We currently have in-house rapid testing available, called Abbott ID NOW. This is a rapid molecular test done with a nasal swab that can provide results in 13 minutes or less. We also still send out some specimens for PCR testing to reference labs, depending on the availability of rapid testing and the reason for testing.

Where is MMC with the vaccine?

MMC has received approval from Texas DSHS to be a vaccine provider when a vaccine is approved. There is still quite a bit to be determined on which facilities will receive the first round of vaccine shipments, but we are preparing our vaccine plans to be ready to go as soon as we get our supply. Once the FDA approves a vaccine, each state’s department of health will be tasked with determining where the vaccine is allotted to and in what phases. So again, as with COVID medications and other resources, we will be at the mercy of the state regarding vaccine shipments, but we will be ready when it’s go time.

With flu season here, what is MMC doing to make sure people who have the flu aren’t classified as COVID patients?

We can do rapid flu testing at our hospital and clinic locations. If a patient comes in with flu or COVID-like symptoms, in most cases, a patient is going to be tested for both, just as they would be tested for flu and other respiratory viruses in past years. Flu activity around the nation is considered “minimal to low” at this time, but we are still not ruling out flu as a cause for illness as we normally would any other year.