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1,000 vaccine doses arrive at Centra Southside

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Farmville, but health care officials are warning the area’s “darkest days” in the battle against the coronavirus are yet to come.

Andrew Mueller

In a Wednesday, Dec. 23, press conference, Centra Health President and CEO Andrew Mueller told listeners he regretted having to deliver the news that the health care provider was once again seeing record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, prompting a stricter visitation policy across Centra locations throughout the area.

Centra Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Chris Lewis said that as of Wednesday, Centra’s Lynchburg General Hospital had 71 COVID patients on its floor with 16 patients in the ICU, 11 of which were on ventilators, for a total of 87 active patients in Lynchburg alone.

The figure is the highest number of coronavirus patients at the hospital to date, a record that has been continually broken over the last several weeks.

“On Dec. 2, the beginning of the month, we had 56 positive patients in the hospital,” he said. “That rose to 71 positives just about a week ago on the 15th. So that climb is significant, and it’s clearly worrisome.”

Lewis said with record numbers of COVID-19 patients comes a record number of deaths, with 18 new fatalities reported out of Lynchburg General in just the past week.

“We currently stand at 150 deaths at Lynchburg General due to COVID,” he stated.

Mueller said that as a result of the continued increase in COVID patients Centra would be restricting visitation policies effective Saturday, Dec. 26, by limiting visits to one individual during the duration of a loved one’s hospital stay.

The new restrictions mean a hospitalized patient at Centra can only be allowed one specific visitor while they are hospitalized. COVID-19 patients, as always, will not be allowed any visitors during their hospitalization except in end-of-life circumstances. 

Bed capacity has continued to be a problem for both Centra and hospitals around the country. While Lynchburg General originally had 72 beds dedicated to coronavirus treatment on both the pulmonary and oncology floors, last week health care officials had to expand that blueprint by opening up the pediatrics unit for another 11 beds.

Lewis said the hospital has now opened up its admissions unit for another six beds, and on Tuesday the hospital was forced to begin dedicating part of its surgical unit to COVID care. He added the hospital so far has only carved out a quarter of the surgical floor to be walled off for coronavirus treatment.

With 98 beds now dedicated to COVID-19 patients at Lynchburg General, the hospital is utilizing almost 30% of bed capacity for coronavirus care.

Lewis emphasized that Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville has also been stretching its COVID unit as of late. While initially Southside had nine beds in its unit for coronavirus patients, that number has risen to 14 as of this week.

Lewis said Southside is able to offload some of Lynchburg’s patients to take additional strain off of Centra’s system.

A “modular unit” was recently erected in front of Lynchburg General’s emergency room to help further alleviate any troubles with bed capacity. The unit will help take care of patients who need to be evaluated in an ER setting who may have COVID-19 symptoms or other respiratory issues.

He added Centra continues to be challenged with staffing as health care workers find themselves taking care of more patients than normal. 

“Our folks are getting tired,” he said.

Lewis addressed encouraging news Wednesday in discussing the latest updates in coronavirus vaccines. Centra received its first shipments of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine just last week, and had immunized 1,260 health care workers as of Wednesday afternoon.

But Lewis said there was even more good news after the Moderna vaccine was approved over the weekend.

Lewis said Centra began receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine to its facilities this week, including at Southside in Farmville and Bedford Memorial Hospital in Bedford.

Southside, according to Lewis, was expected to have received 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine as of Wednesday morning.

“They are currently this afternoon starting to stand up their vaccination sites.”

Southside, Lewis said, will begin vaccinating not only its own employees but other health care workers in the Farmville area as well.

He also reiterated that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised hospitals to first administer doses of the vaccine to the frontline health care workers so that they can continue to care for patients. Long-term care facilities, he added, are expected to begin immunizing their residents with the help of pharmacies by the end of the month.

Additionally, Lewis said members of the public are understandably interested in hearing when the next groups of individuals will receive vaccinations.

He commented that according to CDC guidelines, the next group to be vaccinated will likely be essential workers and those over 75 years of age.

“When that is going to happen is very hard to know,” he said.

Lewis said predictions based on vaccine supply suggest essential workers and seniors will likely start being vaccinated between January and March of 2021, with the general public expected to see immunization somewhere in the summer of 2021.

Centra, according to Lewis, has seen no significant side effects of the coronavirus vaccines thus far.

Lewis said the only people who are advised not to get a COVID-19 vaccine at this time are those who have experienced anaphylactic shock from being administered a shot in the past. Those who have had anaphylaxis as a result of other allergies such as food allergies or bee stings can still receive the vaccine but should stay for 30 minutes after vaccination to be monitored.

There are mild side effects expected from the vaccines, such as redness and soreness at the sight of injection, body aches, fatigue or headaches, which happen usually in the first two days and dissipate quickly.

Health officials are concerned that the record numbers of hospitalizations seen in the last several weeks are a result of the Thanksgiving holiday, bringing fears that Christmas could bring an unprecedented rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

In closing, Lewis made a comparison between the current levels of the pandemic and the winter solstice, which occurred Monday, Dec. 21.

The solstice, he said, is the darkest day of the year in which the sun rises at its latest point and sets at its earliest point.

“Every day after that we get a little more light,” Lewis said. “The comparison that I make is really with COVID … I don’t think a lot of folks think we have seen the darkest day with COVID yet. Things still are very challenging, and the numbers don’t look good. However, we are going to see it. When, we don’t know, but likely within the next several weeks we will see the darkest day of COVID, and then things will start getting better. Things will get brighter.

“And I would say vaccines have a large role in that. They’re not going to make everything better overnight. You don’t flick on the switch and suddenly it’s all daylight. It is going to evolve and happen slowly, but spring is going to be coming, and then I believe we will have a much brighter summer to look forward to in 2021.”