As COVID-19 rages through Central Valley hospitals, Calaveras County’s only hospital waits with bated breath.
State data showing 0% ICU capacity in the San Joaquin Valley Region, in which Calaveras and Tuolumne counties have been grouped for COVID-19 monitoring purposes, do not reflect the current situation locally, according to Doug Archer, President/CEO of Dignity Health Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas.
While valley hospitals are getting “hammered” by a post-holiday wave of COVID-19 patients, Calaveras County is “by no means in that boat,” Archer said. At least, not yet.
Total hospitalized patients at Mark Twain have remained at an average of about 14 since the Thanksgiving surge, nowhere near the hospital’s bed capacity of 25. In the case of an unprecedented influx of patients, staff members at the facility can execute a surge plan and nearly double the number of beds within hours, Archer said.
Archer added that state data on ICU bed availability does not reflect the surge plans at most hospitals, which allow for a significant increase in capacity.
While some regional hospitals have activated their surge plans, Mark Twain remains in the clear, peaking at nine COVID-19 patients just before Christmas. Since then, the average number of hospitalized COVID-19-positive patients has hovered at around four, Archer said. The small community hospital even accepted a transfer patient from Stockton two months ago due to limited capacity in the Central Valley.
“Although none of us want to be here in the pandemic, if you’re in Calaveras County, you’re in an enviable position compared to some of your other friends in California,” Archer said.
On New Year’s Eve, the hospital discharged its longest-staying COVID-19 patient after she spent 41 days on a ventilator. According to Archer, an average stay at the hospital is four days. So far, four COVID-19 related deaths have occurred at Mark Twain, three of whom were advanced in age and had chronic conditions.
Though cautiously optimistic, Archer expects the recent holidays will bring another surge in the coming weeks.
“Generally, with what’s been going on with the patterns, we’re about three weeks behind Stockton,” Archer said.
In San Joaquin County, the positivity rate as of Tuesday was at 17%—significantly higher than Calaveras’ 11%. In a population of roughly 752,000, state data showed 333 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and 87 of those patients in ICU, leaving just 17 standard ICU beds available.
Archer is hopeful that if a similar surge does make its way to Calaveras County, it will be after the demand in the Central Valley has subsided somewhat, allowing for patient transfers, if needed.
Yet daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county have been on the incline since November, and first responders are taking notice.
Last week, Angels Camp Fire Chief John Rohrabaugh posted a public message on Facebook encouraging residents to practice safe behavior.
“Over the last few days we have seen a major increase in COVID-19-related 911 emergency calls in our small community,” Rohrabaugh wrote, stating that in the last five days, 50% of all 911 calls in Angels Camp were for COVID-19 patients, and one of them had died. “If you have to leave your house please wear a mask or face covering. This is probably the most single important thing we can do to decrease the spread in our community.”
Rohrabaugh told the Enterprise that he was “proud” that nearly all of his firefighters chose to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with over 70 total vaccinated on Dec. 29. Rohrabaugh was the first.
At Mark Twain Medical Center, the vaccine has been administered to all staff members who wanted it—roughly 50% of total staff. Those vaccinated will receive their second dose on Thursday. Archer said that the approximately 175 staff members vaccinated was “not too bad,” considering that just 35% were willing in the beginning.
“I think a lot of people didn’t want to go first,” Archer said.
Vaccines for residents and staff at the county’s only skilled nursing facility, Avalon Health Care in San Andreas, also became available early last week. An Avalon spokesperson did not report how many, or if any, vaccines had been administered at the facility, which suffered a devastating outbreak in September, accounting for the majority of countywide COVID-19 deaths.
“Think it’s going pretty well here,” Archer said of the vaccine rollout. “It might be a little while before it gets to the general public, but the county is doing a good job of getting it out to first responders, sheriffs, paramedics, you name it. We’re moving through it very quick.”