Oct. 14—Despite a recent uptick in COVID-19-related deaths, hospitalizations continue to decline at both Joplin regional hospitals.
Mercy Hospital Joplin officials on Wednesday reported 14 COVID-19 patients, with eight on ventilators. Just down the road at Freeman Health System, officials reported 12 COVID-19 patients, with not one on a ventilator.
It's a remarkable turn of events, officials say, considering back in August both hospitals were consistently reporting weekly hospitalization numbers between the high 50s and low 60s, with dozens hooked to lifesaving ventilators.
"As is true with the entire nation, the number of hospitalizations and deaths is going down while, at the same time, the vaccination rates are going up," said Paula Baker, Freeman's president and CEO, during the midweek COVID-19 briefing.
"So far, with all the patients that we have tested, we have a 19% positivity rate, meaning 19% of the patients that are tested for COVID are actually diagnosed with it, and that's very typical across the nation as well," Baker said. "And we have about a 2% mortality rate, which is also fairly typical."
But public dangers persist, as a surge of recent COVID-19-related deaths indicate. On Monday, Joplin Health Department officials announced two deaths — of people ages 44 and 64 — raising the total to 175. On Wednesday, Jasper County Health Department officials announced five pandemic-related deaths — of people in their 50s and 60s — raising the total to 227 deaths.
Despite the low hospitalization rates and zero ventilator status at Freeman, "we cannot let down our guard," Baker said. "We have to stay focused on this until we get it down to no COVID patients."
She urged unvaccinated adults and teens to schedule their shots, or for eligible adults to seek out their booster shots.
"The reason hospitalizations and deaths are going down is because people are getting vaccinated," Baker said. "So please, if you haven't, (get your shots), and encourage your friends and loved ones, as well."
Drugmaker Merck asked U.S. regulators Monday to grant an emergency use order for its antiviral pill, a new weapon against the pandemic. Much like how the COVID-19 infusion drugs work, the proposed pill would be used by adults — and perhaps children — with mild to moderate COVID-19 to prevent symptoms from worsening to the point of hospitalization.
The use order could be granted by the Food and Drug Administration in a matter of weeks.
"We could be hearing something very soon," said Jeff Thompson, chief clinical officer at Freeman.
Though details remain hazy, it's likely the pill would be distributed by pharmacies and would be taken twice a day for five days, Thompson said.
"It does look like the medication is fairly effective at preventing hospitalizations and death," he said. The pill "would give us another drug to help the patient who might be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID."