MURRAY - In a press release Wednesday, the Calloway County Health Department confirmed receiving notification of Omicron cases in the county. Murray-Calloway County Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nicholas O’Dell is not surprised. “We knew it would come eventually,” he said. “It’s all over the world, so we knew it would get here at some point.”

MCCH officials offered more details about the confirmed Omicron cases saying they were notified of three patients who tested positive for the variant. All three patients had negative rapid antigen tests which were sent for confirmatory PCR because the patients had symptoms.

Vice President of Patient Care Services Jeff Eye explained, “One of the labs we use can now sequence variants. These three were sequenced as a part of a sample the lab conducted for quality control purposes. The lab stated that 85% of the samples they sequenced were Omicron.” Eye did note that not all of the tests used in that sample were collected in Calloway County.

When asked what can be expected over the coming weeks, O’Dell said, “I think we are going to continue to see case numbers rise. That’s been the trend. If you look at our previous surges, when COVID numbers started to go up here, they trickled behind some of the other states around us. … We seem to follow behind them by a couple of weeks, so we are expecting that this surge is going to continue and we probably have not seen it peak.”

In his press briefing on Thursday, Governor Andy Beshear said, “Hospitalizations are going up. There is real cause for concern that hospitals can and maybe will be overrun again.”

O’Dell voiced similar concerns. “Our hospital continues to run full. We’re having issues transferring patients to other hospitals in the area or even outside of our area,” he said. “It’s hard for people who have non-COVID-related illnesses to access hospital care when the emergency rooms are full and hospitals are full and you can’t transfer between facilities and there’s just no bed availability.

“That’s my biggest concern – what’s going to happen going forward in terms of healthcare’s ability to continue to maintain operational posture where we can still take care of everybody that needs access to care … whether they have COVID or not.”

O’Dell said that trends in patient demographics have changed in the past few months. “Three or four months ago, it was 40- and 50-year-olds that were on ventilators and now we’re seeing 20- and 30-year-olds. … The thing that seems to tie everybody together is that they are unvaccinated when they require hospitalization.”

In the past two weeks, according to O’Dell, MCCH has had two patients in their 20s on ventilators, “and these are people who were otherwise healthy. … It’s scary to see that, and it’s depressing, too, because it is preventable for the most part.”

O’Dell acknowledged that some vaccinated people do require hospitalization, but said they are typically in their 70s or older. He also noted that vaccinated patients tend to spend a shorter amount of time than unvaccinated patients.

“We have (unvaccinated) people that have been in the hospital for almost a month now either making little progress or very slow progress.“

On Thursday, MCCH had 20 unvaccinated COVID patients, ranging in age from 24 to 84 years; the average age was 56 years. The average age of the vaccinated patients was 74. Notably, both of the vaccinated patients had the J & J vaccine and were not boosted.

“The frustrating part is that a large portion of these hospitalizations could’ve been prevented by vaccination,” O’Dell said. “From a healthcare system standpoint and bed availability and the ability to take care of all patients, COVID or not, not being vaccinated really is the single biggest problem that we have right now, I will say.

“It’s hard when you have these conversations with these patients who chose not to become vaccinated for whatever reason, and then they have these really prolonged hospitalizations or they ultimately succumb to the disease, and you look at them and you just think, ‘Gosh, there’s a really good chance this could’ve been prevented, or it wouldn’t have been this bad if you had made a different decision.’ 

“We still do the best we can with the medications that we have which are still quite limited in terms of the effectiveness of treating COVID.”

O’Dell continued, “One thing I’ve heard from patients in the hospital who had previously chosen to not be vaccinated is that they have remorse about their choices, they say, ‘you know, I just didn’t know who to listen to.’ There’s just so much misinformation or so many different opinions out there on the internet or on TV. The best thing I can tell people is, if you have a trusted healthcare provider here in town, talk to them. If you look at the hospital, all of our employed physicians are vaccinated, and I think that speaks volumes to our trust and belief in this vaccine and the effectiveness of it.” 

Hospital officials confirmed receiving a small allocation of the monoclonal antibody Sotrovimab, but note that supplies are limited and priority is based on the tiered risk groups provided by the NIH. Local providers can make referrals to determine eligibility and supply availability.

On Thursday, MCCH reported 22 total COVID patients – 13 in acute care, three in step down and six in the ICU, four of whom are on ventilators. Of the 22 patients, 15 are from Calloway.