Doctor: Delta a threat to all

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Jul. 23—Every COVID-19 patient admitted to the critical care unit at Medical Center Health System during the past several months has not been vaccinated.

That's the sobering news Critical Care Intensivist Dr. Alejandra Garcia Fernandez bluntly shared during a news conference held at MCH on Thursday.

"We have not had one; zero patients admitted to CCU that has already been vaccinated," said Garcia Fernandez, who works directly with critically ill patients. "If that's not enough proof that the vaccine works, I don't know what else to tell you."

Garcia Fernandez is among a growing number of health officials in Ector County who are sounding the alarm for more residents to get vaccinated. Not only are the number of residents testing positive for COVID-19 spiking again, an increasing number of those cases during the past month have turned out to be the more dangerous Delta variant.

In June, MCH admitted 9 patients who tested positive for the Delta variant, MCHS Director of Public Relations Trevor Tankersley said during Thursday's news conference. That number is expected to increase significantly for July, when those test results, which are conducted in Austin, are released within the next two weeks.

Health officials from MCH and Odessa Regional Medical Center earlier this week said they believe most current COVID cases during the past month are the Delta variant.

During the news conference Garcia Fernandez declined to even talk about the need for people to step up precautions such as resume wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, and avoiding large gatherings.

"We're past that discussion," Garcia Fernandez said. "We need to talk about the community getting vaccinated.

"Sixty percent (of Ector County residents) are not vaccinated — that's alarming."

Until about 80 percent of the county gets vaccinated, COVID will remain a threat to people's lives and the economy, Garcia Fernandez said.

Garcia Fernandez and Tankersley acknowledged that health care officials are frustrated that so many people continue to refuse to get vaccinated.

Tankersley noted that the hospital system in recent weeks has held several community vaccination events where nobody showed up.

Garcia Fernandez said the most significant problem is many people are misinformed about the safety and purpose of vaccines. A vaccination doesn't guarantee that someone won't get COVID, but it does significantly reduce the risk.

"I've heard all the excuses," Garcia Fernandez said. "There's so many conspiracy theories out there — people believe the vaccine will change their DNA, that it's a way for the government to place a tracking chip into people. Other people say 'I'm not sick,' or 'I'm young, I don't need it.'"

Health officials like Garcia Fernandez say those excuses could come back to haunt people because the Delta variant is proving to attack all ages — and it's more aggressive and faster acting.

Like COVID-19, symptoms for the Delta variant can include fatigue, shortness of breath, coughing, a fever, chills and diarrhea. The Delta variant can overtake a person's immune system within a few days, Garcia Fernandez said.

"It's a very painful death," she said. "Your lungs begin to scar and you feel like you can't breathe. By the time you're placed on a ventilator we've already had to induce coma. Your heart still can't get enough oxygen, so it stops and you die.

"It's an agonizing death for the patient and their loved ones who have to watch from a window as you die."

The low rate of people vaccinated in Ector County is extremely frustrating to health officials because they know many deaths and illnesses can be avoided.

"Morale is already low (from 2020)," Garcia Fernandez said. "People are tired and don't want to go through this again.

"Yes, physically we're prepared if COVID numbers go up like they did last year. But emotionally, psychologically it affects staff. Nobody wants to stand there and hold someone's hand while they die."

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