As Oxford prepares to host its first home football game of the season on Sept. 11, which is expected to bring roughly 48,000 fans to Vaught-Hemingway, local medical providers are scrambling to bolster an already strained healthcare system.
“We are anticipating and preparing for an increase [in COVID-19 cases], with the fact that we will have more people in town,” said Jondi Roberson, director of marketing at Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi. “The more people that are here that are not vaccinated, heightens the possibility that they will have to use our hospital. We are preparing our hospital and prepping our resources for that.”
Last week, Mayor Robyn Tannehill requested a field hospital with an additional 50 beds and 30 nurses from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, when staff shortages prevented the hospital from adding extra beds.
“At this point, we need more staff. Thankfully, we have a few recovery rooms that are currently available that are allowing us to stay within the walls of our hospital,” said Roberson.
Roberson says the hospital is asking people to utilize urgent care clinics and doctor’s offices before seeking medical help at the hospital if their symptoms are treatable at home.
“We’ve still got people with strokes, car-wrecks, heart-attacks and all other types of emergencies,” she said. “So, we’re trying to keep the emergency room open for people that have the most urgent needs.”
Along with hospitals, Urgent Care Clinics across Oxford are seeing similar side effects of this latest COVID-19 surge.
“We’re having extremely long wait times: anywhere from 2-3 hours,” Erica Stowell, a front desk coordinator at Ole Town Med said. “On a normal day we’re used to seeing around 30 people. Now that the students are back we’re seeing 100 plus people everyday for COVID.”
Stowell worries about how long this system can last if cases continue to worsen.
“As soon as we open at 8 a.m., we immediately get 20-30 calls at once and the calls do not stop until we close at 6 p.m. We’re having to cut off patients and make people wait outside for car-side assistance,” Stowell said. “If it gets to a point where the cases increase even more, we will unfortunately have to turn people away.”
Stowell says they are also having several issues finding nurses and other support staff, but are doing the best that they can with the supplies and staff that they have available.
Oxford pharmacies are experiencing a trickle-down of disruption from the surge in COVID-19 cases.
CVS Jackson Avenue’s lead pharmacist Clay Clark says the location regularly runs-out run out of COVID-19 rapid tests and wait times for prescription drugs, in some cases, are taking several days to fill due to the high volume in COVID-19 related medications.
“COVID tests are selling out within 24 hours, and we only get those shipments once a week. Flu vaccines, COVID vaccines, COVID medications, in addition to regular everyday medicines, puts a strain on pharmacy staff,” he said. “The volume of COVID patients is putting us a week behind for regular drugs like insulin. If you need medication today, we can help expedite the process, but it still might take several hours.”
Clark estimates that from the time a patient tests positive for COVID-19, that person may have already spent three hours at the urgent care and three hours at the pharmacy, making treatment for COVID-19 an all-day event.
Clark says that since CVS began distributing vaccines in late March, the Oxford location has seen an increase in students who are seeking the vaccine.
“We went from giving 2-3 vaccines per day just a few weeks ago, to now giving 30-40 a day, which is pretty much all we can do at our location,” Clark said.
Robinson says vaccines are the best chance at avoiding more strain on Oxford’s healthcare system.
“Get vaccinated. We are encouraging the community to get vaccinated in order to prevent any unnecessary deaths and in order to return to our normal lifestyles,” Robinson said.