On The Frontlines: Dr. Hannah Ray talks COVID-19, hospital capacity and other issues

By BRYAN DAVIS PUBLISHER,

The number of official COVID-19 cases in Sunflower County rose by just two between Monday and Friday, from 11 to 13.

But Indianola physician Dr. Hannah Ray, who is literally on the frontlines locally battling the novel coronavirus, says the number of cases in the county is probably much higher.

Like many hospitals and clinics across the country, South Sunflower County Hospital and Indianola Family Medical Clinic lack the resources to conduct mass testing.

“You see a lot of people you think could have it, and you just have to stress to them the importance of going home and self-quarantining and the red flag symptoms they should watch for if they need to come back so they’re not getting too sick,” Ray told The E-T in an interview this week.

As of Friday morning, there are 13 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Sunflower County, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Ray said on Thursday that 11 cases had been treated at SSCH or the clinic. It was not known at the time of publication whether the new case added on Friday is in Indianola.

Both facilities began about two weeks ago changing operating procedures when it came to seeing patients and having visitors in the hospital.

The clinic was initially separated into two sections, a well side and a sick side.

Ray, along with Terry Dorsey, NP and Lee Paxton, NP, were tasked with seeing the sick, or those who were symptomatic.

Last week, the decision was made to see patients exclusively in their cars, and Dr. Chad Dowell was added to the team that sees dozens of sick patients every day.

Even though they are seeing many patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, Ray said the hospital simply does not have the resources to test everyone.

She said they have tested as many as 10 in a day, but that’s about the highest number they have done.

“We have very limited testing ability at this time, just like most of the rest of the nation,” Ray said. “You see a lot of people you would love to test. I tell people every day, if I could test everybody, I’d just go set up and run a clinic just for that.”

Ray said the hospital staff has daily meetings that focus on trying to procure more tests.

“Some of these new rapid tests that have come out, we are trying to pursue avenues to get those,” Ray said. “The issue so far is because of the limited number of those tests, because they have just gone into mass production, nationwide, those rapid tests are still being allocated to what they are calling the hot spots.”

Ray said states like California, Michigan and New York, as well as cities like New Orleans, have been labeled hot spots and are higher on the list.

“While we are very eager to get them, we are not on the higher priority list yet, but we are talking with the vendors who precure these tests and sell these tests, and we are pursuing options to try and get them as soon as possible,” Ray said.

Other than testing, Ray said she and the staff must rely on the empirical evidence, and they are emphasizing to patients who show symptoms that they need to isolate immediately.

“That is why it is so critical when we tell you ‘look, you have the symptoms, and I can’t prove if this is the Delta crud we all get every year or if this is truly COVID, so I need you to go home and isolate, and I need you to protect your family and home by isolating from them and wearing a mask and not sharing utensils and food, and cleaning up after using a shared restroom.’ It’s absolutely critical for them and their families, because we can’t test as much as we would like to. I truly believe I see people that have it. I just don’t have the ability to test them.”

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control on social distancing, along with Gov. Tate Reeves’ most recent shelter-in-place order, are attempts to try to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases below the nation’s and the state's health care capacity.

SSCH currently has 49 licensed beds, and Ray said the facility is doing fine when it comes to occupancy.

She said the hospital has seven Intensive Care rooms, but they are nowhere near full occupancy.

She did say, however, that the hospital has a plan in place in case there is a spike in admissions.

“It is something we’re keeping a close eye on, and we have made efforts to rearrange and make sure we have contingency plans. So far, we have stayed pretty stable,” she said.

The hospital, she said, also has enough ventilators currently to meet the needs of their patients.

“We have multiple available ventilators at this time,” Ray said. “Of course, like everyone else, we would always want to have more. I don’t think you could find a hospital in the country right now that doesn’t wish they had a couple of extra sitting around. So far, that has not been an issue for us.”

Ray said hospital and clinic staff are utilizing the many masks that have been sewn and donated by members of the community and encourages more donations in that area.

“We greatly appreciate members of the community who have made and donated masks,” Ray said. “We are using the masks, and it has been a big benefit to us, and it has met a need that we have, absolutely. Our nurses are wearing them, we have used them with patients that need them in the hospital, and it also, I think, is a morale booster, because it lets you know that the community is thinking about you and they have you in their thoughts. We do greatly appreciate people who are willing to do that.”

The photo above is a file photo from The E-T's archives of SSCH and IFMG Physician Dr. Hannah Ray

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