As the Pike County Health Department nears a “breaking point” with contact tracing, local officials share why it is crucial for the public to take precautions against the virus and why the virus could hit the county even harder in the near future, due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

As of presstime Nov. 30, the county’s total number of cases was 1,937, with 541 of those being active cases, and 1,374 people were considered recovered. A total of 22 Pike County residents have died from the virus so far, which is an increase of five new deaths since presstime Nov. 22.

Pike County Public Health Director Tammy Riley said Pike County has reached a steady state, or a plateau, of newly reported cases, with between 20-30 new cases reported every day, but she expects there to be a surge of new cases in at least 10 days due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

That new surge, she said, could push her staff to a “breaking point” in terms of contact tracing due to the massive volume of new patients and their direct contacts. Therefore, she said, they are seeking alternative contact tracing strategies in order to help take some of the burden off of the health department for contact tracing.

“We’re at a breaking point with contact tracing, and we are working on messaging a standardized message for both the patient and for the patient’s contacts. Moving forward, we’re going to need the assistance of providers and patients to provide guidance for the isolation and quarantine process,” Riley said. “If we see the surge that they anticipate, it will become impossible for us, in addition to contacting the patient, to also contact the patient’s contacts and follow up with those individuals for 14 days. Therefore, we are seeking alternative contact tracing strategies, which would include the patient assisting with notifying their contacts. In addition, providers are already working with us with providing the patient with guidance as well.”

Additionally, there are 38 Pike County residents currently hospitalized for COVID-19 in the county’s hospitals, and that is a portion of the number of total patients currently being hospitalized for the virus in the county’s two hospitals, as of Nov. 30.

Riley said that Pike County’s hospitals — Pikeville Medical Center and Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center — carry a large burden because they treat patients from across the region, not only from Pike County.

“The burden on our hospitals in Pike County is much greater due to the fact that the hospitals in Pike County carry the burden of the region in many cases, so our hospitals have more hospitalized than outside the reach of Pike County,” Riley said. “As a public health official, the Pike County Health Department monitors hospitalizations and occupancy of hospitals, as well as the number of Pike County residents who are hospitalized.”

Riley said that the county is continuing to work on its COVID-19 vaccination plan, which will help local health officials distribute the COVID-19 vaccine when it reaches Pike County.

She also provided guidance to the community as a precaution due to the anticipated new surge of cases after the Thanksgiving holiday.

“As a community, everyone needs to have what I call ‘heightened awareness,’ and like we’ve always been asking, wear a mask and remain six feet away from others,” Riley said. “If you did participate in a group gathering, for example, you should certainly have heightened awareness of any onset or new symptoms. Use greater discernment in your decision-making process as far as activities. For example, do not expose yourself to someone who may be immunocompromised or is in one of the high-risk categories, like someone 60 years or older. I would avoid those types of activities with those types of people.”

Another local official in Pike County recently spoke on the ongoing high number of new COVID-19 cases being reported in Pike County. Pike County Judge-Executive Ray Jones addressed Pike Countians during a Pike County Fiscal Court meeting on Nov. 24, and he provided data to the public that he received from the Pike County Health Department on Nov. 24 in order to provide context to how the virus is impacting the county, as well as why it is important to take the virus seriously.

As of Nov. 24, Jones said, there were 86 people hospitalized for COVID-19 between Pikeville Medical Center and Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center, with 45 of those individuals being Pike County residents. 26 of the 86 were in the ICU, and 16 of the 26 were on ventilators.

“Currently, Pike County’s ICU capacity is at 94 percent of the available ICU beds. 94 percent,” Jones said. “So a lot of people who were skeptical about the impacts of COVID or thought that it would go away after the election, this thing is getting worse. When you’re only at 6 percent capacity available on ICU units, that can fill up rather quickly. If you have a family member who is in an accident or your family member has a heart attack or stroke or some other kind of medical emergency, the last thing that we want is to not be able to get treatment here locally for that person.”

He explained how the cases in Pike County have surged since September, with cases growing from 161 cases in September, to 620 in October, and November had 617 cases with six days remaining. It is expected to surpass all other months of the pandemic so far.

“Please take this seriously. A lot of people are immunocompromised, we have people with a lot of pre-existing conditions, and this disease does not discriminate against you because of age (or) because of political part affiliation. We do know that there are two people in the hospital with this virus who are in their 30s and they’re hospitalized. Then, with 40s, 50s, 60s and so on, the numbers go up. This doesn’t discriminate against younger people, as well as older people.”

Jones urged Pike Countians to follow the COVID-19 guidelines, and he commented on Gov. Andy Beshear’s COVID-19 orders and why it is crucial for people to adhere to those recommendations and guidelines.

“Listen to the health department guidelines. Gov. Beshear’s taken a lot of heat for some of his orders, but I truly believe he’s simply trying to save people’s lives. He’s listening to his public health experts, the same thing that we’re doing here. That’s all we can do,” Jones said. “If we ignore the public health recommendations and more people get sick and more people die, that would be morally reprehensible for us at the fiscal court. Likewise, it would be the same for the governor. If we ignore public health experts — like infectious disease experts, epidemiologists — to ignore their recommendations would be a grievous misuse of the public trust.”

Jones reminded the public of how there are currently plans to begin the first phase of distributing COVID-19 vaccinations for the American public by as early as late December.

“We’re asking that you please adhere to those recommendations. This is short-term situation. We know that they’re going to be rolling out vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna here in the next few weeks. The goal line is in sight. The finish line is in sight. We know that there is an end to this. The question is, how many people are going to die or get seriously ill before we have the vaccine widely distributed and get people immunized? That really comes down to us, how we conduct ourselves and whether or not we listen to what public health officials say.”

Symptoms and Testing

Symptoms for COVID-19 include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting or diarrhea.

According to the state’s official COVID-19 website, testing in Pike County can be found at:

• Shelby Valley Clinic (178 Douglas Parkway, Pikeville)

• Pikeville Community Health Center (50 Weddington Branch Road, Pikeville)

• Pikeville Medical Center (231 Hibbard Street, Pikeville)

• East Kentucky After Hours Clinic (255 Church Street, Suite 102B, Pikeville)

• Ramey Family Practice (10363 Regina Belcher Hwy, Elkhorn City)

• HomePlace Clinic (118 River Drive, Pikeville)

• HomePlace Clinic (26229 U.S. Hwy 119 North, Belfry)

• First Care Clinic (115 Lee Avenue, Suite 1, Pikeville)

Contact each location for specific hours and appointment scheduling.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with COVID-19 have had a wide range of the reported symptoms, ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

Anyone of any age can contract the virus. However, older adults and people who are immunocompromised or who have severe underlying medical conditions — including cancer, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, COPD, obesity, asthma, hypertension or high blood pressure, sickle cell disease, chronic kidney disease and liver disease — have a higher risk of developing more serious complications from COVID-19.

According to the CDC, the primary ways to protect against contracting or spreading the virus is to do frequent hand washing, maintain social distancing (keeping six feet apart from others) and wearing a face mask or facial covering when around others.

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