Published: 3:08 pm, Fri. Mar. 20th, 2020
My Fellow Artesians,
My name is Marshall Baca, Jr. I am the Emergency Department Medical Director and lead of the Artesia General Hospital COVID-19 task force. I was asked to write this educational piece on behalf of AGH and its staff to inform the public. In light of the emergence and spread of COVID-19, I understand that we are faced with much worry and uncertain times in our community. Along with countless members of the medical community in Artesia and across the nation, we are working tirelessly to stay updated with evolving recommendations to help slow the spread of this virus. AGH is implementing drastic, yet imperative, measures in preparation of COVID-19. Access to the hospital is currently limited to employees only and those who are critically ill. All elective surgeries are cancelled. Outpatient clinics are continuing to see patients on an urgent basis only, but are utilizing electronic means of communication with patients for non-urgent appointments. Hospital access for employees not involved in direct patient care is limited. All staff and employees wear masks in patient care areas. Staff is educated daily on proper PPE (personal protective equipment) usage. This highlights a few examples of changes that have recently occurred. Administration, physicians, and staff meet daily to ensure that AGH is meeting and/or exceeding current recommendations and guidelines as COVID-19 evolves and spreads here in the United States.
Following trends seen in other countries, the number of people who are testing positive for COVID-19 in the US is starting to rise. Unfortunately, it seems as though we are nowhere close to our peak. Numbers will continue to rise and will affect our community and surrounding communities, especially if people disregard current recommendations for social distancing. Current recommendations are suggesting for every single person, sick or not, to act as though you are infected and quarantine to slow spread of the virus. Please reserve the Emergency Department and 911 services for life threatening events. If you have mild symptoms, please stay home, quarantine, and contact the New Mexico Department of Health. AGH has a very limited number of COVID-19 testing kits, and they are currently reserved for the critically ill. On behalf of AGH and its entire staff, I urge you to be stewards of our community and follow current federal and state guidelines and regulations pertaining to COVID-19. Please practice social distancing and avoid social gatherings. During these unprecedented times, we should all be vigilant.
Allow me to present a scenario that could quite possibly occur in our community using statistics from around the nation and the world. Currently, statistics reported worldwide for COVID-19 are inconsistent due to a number of factors, but I will attempt to provide a scenario using the conservative end of the spectrum.
Artesia has a population of approximately 13,000 people. As soon as ONE person tests positive for COVID-19, we can estimate that potentially 1,300 members of our community will also be infected in a short amount of time assuming an infective rate of 10% (infective rates vary significantly). It is estimated that 1-2% (up to 8%) of those who are infected will be critical, which equates to approximately 13-26 patients who will require critical care here at AGH (e.g., ventilator support, ICU bed). Given either number, Artesia’s medical system does not have the resources to care for that many critical patients and will completely overwhelm our medical resources. Furthermore, it will be highly unlikely to transfer these patients to higher levels of care to surrounding hospitals, as those facilities will likely not have enough resources to take care of their own communities, let alone assist ours.
Please understand that it is your societal and moral responsibility to protect the community and those who are most vulnerable, including infants, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised. These individuals could be any one of your family members or friends and have the highest risk of dying from COVID-19. It is estimated that four out of five people who tested positive for COVID-19 contracted the virus from someone who did not know they had it. Even if you do not have any symptoms, you could still be infected, and you can still pass the virus on to others who may be at risk of serious illness or even death.
I have been asked countless times, “How is Coronavirus (COVID-19) any different than the flu?” To be frank, there is no comparison. Yes, influenza kills tens of thousands of people a year in the US, and this is by no means an attempt to downplay influenza. However, the “flu season” lasts over several months, which allows our hospitals to provide care and utilize their resources over a longer period of time. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is spreading so rapidly, that it does not allow for the luxury of time. Several patients are requiring critical medical attention in a much shorter time frame, which is crippling and overwhelming our health care system.
COVID-19 was unknown to science until December – just a few months ago! More people die yearly from influenza compared to the number thus far from COVID-19; however, the mortality (death) rate with COVID-19 is significantly higher. As mentioned earlier, the mortality rate for COVID-19 in the US is 1-2%, and is as high as 7-8% in other parts of the world, versus less than 0.1% for influenza. The difference is staggering.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to understand what you may be asked or required to do. Please follow Public Health social distancing recommendations and other common sense hygiene practices to help slow down the spread of this highly contagious virus, in an attempt to “flatten the curve.” Please do your part to serve the greater good for everyone in our amazing community.
Stay vigilant Artesia!
Marshall G Baca Jr, DO FACEP, FAAEM
Medical Director Emergency Department – Artesia General Hospital
“Everything we do before a pandemic will seem alarmist. Everything we do after will seem inadequate.” –Michael Leavitt, former HHS Secretary