Lubbock prepares for potential COVID-19 surge

The City of Lubbock has confirmed 34 new cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and three additional deaths as of 4:00 p.m. on April 16, 2020. The total number of cases in Lubbock County is 401: 272 active, 101 listed as recovered and 28 deaths.

With the increase in the total number of COVID-19 cases in Lubbock County, city officials and local health institutions have plans in place to prepare for a surge in cases and the time after the pandemic ends.

Members of the City of Lubbock and representatives from University Medical Center and Covenant Health discussed these topics during a virtual news conference Thursday.

Katherine Wells, director of the Lubbock Health Department, said Lubbock County saw its second largest spike in daily reported COVID-19 cases Wednesday with 37 additional cases. This spike is due to an increase in testing and community spread.

"Through Wednesday, the health department is reporting 367 positive COVID-19 residents in Lubbock County," she said.

As of the time of the news conference, Wells said 25 Lubbock residents have died from COVID-19. The youngest person to die from the virus was someone around 50-years-old.

"Residents in our nursing homes live in close quarters, which makes social distancing difficult," she said. "The health department is currently working with two nursing home facilities who have significant outbreaks in our community. These outbreaks are challenging because once a virus becomes established in a facility, it is very difficult to control."

Although, Wells said 89 individuals in Lubbock are considered recovered from the virus. The younger populations are recovering more frequently.

With the current situation, one may be worried about a potential surge in COVID-19 cases in Lubbock County. Local health institutions are taking different steps to prevent any major issues.

Richard Parks, Covenant Health regional chief executive, said since COVID-19 was first confirmed in Lubbock County, Covenant Health has had 34 inpatients across its different ministries. As of Thursday morning, the institution is caring for 13 COVID-19 patients, six of which are in the intensive care unit.

A 25 to 30 percents increase in the average week of stay for patients has been observed at the hospital, Parks said.

"As far as the testing goes out in the community at our four different fever clinics and drive-thru facilities for the community, we've had an accumulation of 1,157 tests, and we've had 115 positive tests," he said. "Obviously, we're testing our physicians as well."

Personal protective equipment at Covenant Health institutions is improving weekly, Parks said. In addition, testing capabilities increases each week.

Regarding UMC, Mark Funderburk, UMC president and CEO, said the institution's drive-up clinic has screened over 4,500 cars and tested about 2,800 people.

"The UMC COVID-19 call center has received around 4,600 phone calls," he said. "Just 240 yesterday alone."

Over 2,700 people have been tested at UMC Thursday, Funderburk said. Over 300 positive cases were detected, which includes 10 that are med-surge and eight in the ICU.

At UMC, 12 cases are under investigation, eight deaths have been reported and 19 people who had COVID-19 were discharged from the hospital, Funderburk said.

"Our challenges today are essentially around PPE," he said. "We do have PPE, but we are learning something very important for this process: buying is not the same as receiving. We have bought a great deal, we have not received everything that we have purchased."

In addition to current efforts to provide support for the community, different surge-capacity plans are in place to deal with a possible, sharp increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Regarding Covenant Health, Parks said each ministry has a surge plan for the number of hospital beds available.

"We also work with our clinic staff to expand the number of people in our clinics," he said. "We also have contacted the former nursing staff that we feel will be critical, particularity for ICU beds. Currently, we have over 70 of those staff that will come back and work with Covenant Health System and our various ministries and hospitals across the region."

Along with this, the number of Covenant Health staff members who have contracted COVID-19 has been low, Parks said.

"The caregivers that have contracted COVID at Covenant Health System have either all recovered or well on their path to recovery," he said.

Regarding staff at UMC, Funderburk said no staff members have been furloughed, but some have been redeployed to clinics and entryways, whether it be for current patients or to prepare for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases.

"So, in that regard, as we get ready, we are expanding bed capacity by 27 percent, we are turning outpatient areas into ICU beds, we are adding potentially 133 additional beds and we are training 172 nurses ready to come back on board and to be redeployed should the surge take place," he said.

UMC staff may have to dedicate other areas of hospitals as ICUs, Funderburk said.

"Essentially, you've take an inventory of all the beds you have in your hospital or things that could perhaps be a hospital bed," he said. "Units, departments, anything. You are expanding that to take into account every possible space that could be a med-surge or ICU bed."

Regardless, Funderburk said there also have been medical workers who contracted COVID-19.

"We have had a mixture of clinical and non-clinical folks that are diagnosed with COVID," he said. "They are not in the hospital currently, but we have had folks that have been diagnosed with small number, and we're very grateful for that."

Regarding the COVID-19 surge contingency plans, Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope said hospitals have shared plans with the city.

"We feel very confident about the planning that has been done in our community," he said.

Covenant and UMC also will rely on other institutions, such as Grace Clinic and Lubbock Heart Hospital, in the event of the surge.

Despite the potential of the surge, Pope also discussed the topic of economic recovery after the pandemic. During the conference, he spotlighted the Lubbock Economic Recovery Task Force, which he said he would implement during Tuesday's city council meeting.

Announcements regarding the task force's implementation and leadership will be made later Thursday, Pope said. The group will meet on Monday.

"Remember, this group will be a group of community leaders," he said. "It will include businesses that are impacted by what's happened in the last month. It will include restaurants, it will include the financial sector, it will have a broad-based group to give the very best advice to the city council as to how to move forward in an efficient and safe way."

For those who want to pose questions or concerns to the task force, Pope said there will be opportunities to do that soon.

"Part of our effort will include a web portal, a web page, so citizens can post their concerns, their ideas, questions, whatever it may be," he said.