As Pike County’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to grow and medical facilities’ ability to respond is stretched, health officials are continuing to ask for the public to take the virus and its impacts seriously and to take steps to mitigate the impacts.

Pike County Public Health Director Tammy Riley said Aug. 19 that Pike County currently had 670 active cases of COVID-19, a number which represents the result of exponential growth over recent weeks.

“That’s an incredible increase in the number of active cases, compared to where we were only a month ago,” she said.

One measure, she said, is the number of cases per day over a seven-day period.

“We’re currently at 102.9 cases per day per 100,000,” she said “At that point, anything over 25 cases is considered an overwhelming burden for public health beyond our capacity.”

Riley said that growth in cases has happened much more quickly than what was seen in the spike last year.

“What took months to occur from late September to January, where we peaked on Jan. 7 with 92 cases, happened in just a few short weeks this time,” she said.

Riley said the Health Department remains committed to contacting all positive cases, but that the growth in the number of cases has made it so the department cannot contact all those who may come in contact with the virus. And, she said, that ability could be hampered further.

“I’ve notified providers that report the patients to us that it is likely, if this continues, that we will, in the near future, be unlikely to call every positive patient,” she said.

Riley said that it is key that people continue to mitigate the virus by wearing masks in indoor situations and by getting vaccinated if they have not done so. Riley said Pike County’s vaccination rate has grown to at least 45 percent, but that more people need to receive the vaccine to help stem the tide of COVID-19.

In a statement issued on social media this week, Appalachian Regional Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Maria Braman said that ARH had been contacted over this past weekend by hospitals in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi asking for ICU beds for COVID patients.

“We cannot take them because our ICU beds are filling up,” Braman wrote. “Today, we have 108 COVID positive patients with 25 in the ICU. 53 percent of these patients are under 60 years old. Last week, we admitted three patients between 18-19 and another five that were between 20-29. We never saw patients this young last round.”

Braman also pointed out that 97 percent of those in the hospital are unvaccinated.

“I am terrified that our healthcare systems will be overwhelmed in the weeks and months to come,” she wrote.

Riley also said that keeping the medical system from being overwhelmed is vital.

“When you mitigate, you’re trying to flatten the curve, you’re trying to slow that acceleration so the healthcare system can manage patients and so the community will not suffer unnecessary loss,” she said.

Pike Judge-Executive Ray Jones also addressed the issue during the meeting of the Pike Fiscal Court on Aug. 17, calling the situation with COVID “alarming.”

“We do have a very alarming trend in the COVID-19 situation,” he said. “We know of at least six deaths from COVID-19 since Friday. The situation is getting out of hand.”

He pointed to a recent report showing that the county had a total of 25 overdose deaths last year.

“We’re approaching five times the number of deaths from COVID-19 that we did from overdoses,” he said. “And overdoses, that’s alarming enough.”

Jones said he appreciates the job done by Riley and healthcare providers, such as ARH and Pikeville Medical Center, but a problem still exists.

“The problem is there’s some people that just don’t believe it’s real,” he said. “And there’s some people that have really strange beliefs about this vaccine. But I think the data shows that, if you’re vaccinated, you have a great shot at not getting sick, but if you do get sick, it’s usually milder symptoms.”

Mandates, he said, are not in the works, but people have to make good decisions.

“We’re not going to do mandates and we’re not going to browbeat people, but the people that worry me are the kids because, usually, it’s the parents that are making those decisions,” he said.

Riley said she asks that people continue to work on mitigation because history shows that situations like this do pass.

“We will get through this,” she said. “The Spanish Flu in 1918 was a burden on society for a couple of years and I know people are tired, but we’ve made it this far.”