Peterson Health officials announced they now have antibody therapeutics to fight the COVID-19 virus and will also administer vaccine when available, while Kerrville Fire Department Chief Eric Maloney provided statistics and safe holiday advice Friday morning during a virtual joint stakeholder update.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Kerr County, with nearly 200 active cases recorded as of Friday, community leaders gathered virtually to provide a community update and suggestions for safely navigating the upcoming holiday season.
Kerrville Mayor Bill Blackburn welcomed viewers Friday morning by reminding them that the Joint COVID-19 leadership team has been providing updates since March to keep residents apprised of the local coronavirus situation.
“Today we are doing that once again and you will hear from several people this morning about their particular area that they are working in and have responsibility for,” Blackburn said. “They will give you some updates on what is going on.”
Kerrville Fire Department
KFD Chief Eric Maloney said that as Friday morning, 186 positive cases of COVID-19 exist within Kerr County.
“I think the most important thing to notice on this chart is that at 186 cases almost matches where we were on July 11 when we had 189 cases in Kerr County,” Maloney said. “What changed at that point in July was the Governor’s mask order came in on July 3. After that was when we started to see the decrease. However, the mask order has remained in place, but we are back to 186 cases.”
Maloney said it is important to be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 as we move into the flu season.
According to Maloney, the following statistics detail symptoms of a person with COVID-19:
• 78 percent experience fever;
• 57 percent have a cough;
• 25 percent report loss of smell;
• 23 percent have difficulty in breathing.
Other symptoms include chills, headaches, muscle aches, loss of taste, loss of appetite, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, nausea and diarrhea, Maloney said.
“These all mimic the cold and flu season, but it is very important to understand that any unusual symptoms could be COVID or lead to COVID,” Maloney said. “Symptoms may range from mild to severe, in fact some patients are more likely asymptomatic.”
Maloney urged citizens who are experiencing any of the listed symptoms to get tested.
“It is important to get tested, get isolated and/or quarantined,” Maloney said.
Maloney shared local options for COVID-19 testing:
• Peterson Urgent Care, 1740 Junction Hwy., 258-7669;
• Peterson Medical Associates, 1331 Bandera Hwy, 896-4200, option #1;
• Franklin Clinic, 723 Hill Country Dr., Suite C.
Maloney announced dates for scheduled free public testing on the following dates:
• Wednesday, Nov. 25, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hill Country Youth Event Center;
• Thursday, Dec. 3, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hill Country Youth Event Center.
“These are walk-in clinics,” Maloney said. “No appointment is necessary. We will continue to schedule more of these.”
“As I said earlier, the (governor’s) mask order was a best practice that changed Kerr County and brought those active cases down in July,” Maloney said. “But I’d like to talk about other best practices that we can use to help.”
Maloney urged citizens to remember to refrain from close contact with other individuals by maintaining six feet of distance, stating that infected individuals can spread the virus before becoming symptomatic.
Other best practices include:
• Do not go to work sick;
• Do not share community food or drinks;
• Wear a mask. Masks are the key to reducing the spread of the virus;
• Social distance, even during the holidays;
• Follow quarantine or isolation instructions.
“Be smart and accountable over the holidays and we will enjoy an even better holiday season next year,” Maloney said.
As we head in to the holiday season, Maloney urged citizens to study Centers for Disease Control guidelines for holiday activities and discuss these guidelines as a family.
He said lower risk activities include:
• Small dinner with family and friends who live in your household;
• Host a virtual dinner with family and friends.
Moderate risk activity includes:
• Small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community.
Higher risk activities that should be avoided are:
• Going shopping in crowded stores before, on, or after Thanksgiving;
• Large indoor gatherings with people from outside your household.
Cory Edmondson, Peterson Health President and CEO, said the uptick in cases is concerning, but that Peterson Health officials and staff are “managing COVID and not allowing COVID to manage us.”
Edmondson said Peterson Health testing is resulting in an average of 20 positive patients daily.
“That’s just the testing that we do and that testing is resulting in a 16 percent positivity rate,” Edmondson said.
He then asked for help from local residents.
“Based on what Chief Maloney just told us and what we are doing here at Peterson Health to stop the spread, I challenge the community to help us set a goal to get to 5 percent positivity rate very soon,” Edmondson said. “I set that challenge to get there within the next six to eight weeks as we do the things we need to do as a community to manage this. It is manageable and that threshhold is achievable. We’ve been there.”
While Edmondson staff at Peterson Health Regional Medical Center are able to care for all patients being admitted, the numbers of hospitalizations is increasing, with as many as 15 patients being treated for the coronavirus at one time.
Edmondson said testing at the Peterson Urgent Care Center is open to all symptomatic residents and no appointment is needed.
“Just show up and we will get you scheduled and tested,” Edmondson said. “If you are asymptomatic, but think you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, schedule an appointment at our Peterson Medical Plaza. Call 896-4200 to schedule an appointment.”
The Peterson COVID-19 Hotline is seeing a tremondous increase in calls, Edmondson said, with as many as 150 inquiries received daily.
He said many of those calls include employers and employees calling for guidance on bringing staff back to the workplace.
“I would encourage you and businesses to look at the CDC guidelines and follow those,” Edmondson said.
Even though the cases are steadily increasing, Edmondson said there are reasons to be optimistic.
“We are more confident today in our treatment and protocols, and we are more experienced, quite frankly, and aware of this beast of a disease and there is real hope out there,” Edmondson said. “There is a promise for an imminent vaccine and additional therapuetics.”
Local treatment available
Peterson Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mack Blanton said that a pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, has developed a COVID-19 vaccine that reports 94 percent efficacy and has applied for emegency use authorization from the Food & Drug Administration.
“If the company is able to get the Emergency Use Authorization of their COVID-19 vaccine, the distribution of that vaccine should follow shortly,” Blanton said. “Peterson Health, as well as other entities in the community are certified as COVID-19 vaccine providers.”
Blanton said once the vaccine is distributed, Peterson Health will begin administering the vaccine locally.
“The priority for administration of the vaccine has been sorted out with the CDA and FDA and has been determined that healthcare workers and first responders, such as EMS, will be the highest priority as those at the most risk,” Blanton said. “And based on vaccine supply, it will be rolled out to those others at high risk, such as those with advanced age or co-morbid medical illnesses or those that are living in a setting such as nursing homes.”
Blanton said the fact that a highly-effective vaccine will be arriving in the near future is good news. More good news, Blanton said, is the local availablity of a monicolonal antibody called Bamlanivimab.
“It’s the same type of medication that you may remember that was given to President Trump,” Blanton said. “This is a very similar medication. This medication was allocated this past week across the nation. We have our allocation, which is a very limited number of doses.”
Blanton said Bamlanivimab is used for patients who have recently been diagnosed with mild to moderate symptoms and are not “sick enough to be hospitalized.”
“The studies on this medication show that we can decrease viral load, decrease symptoms and we can significantly decrease hospitalization rate in these COVID-19 patients and it is exciting that we have a directed therapy,” Blanton said. “It may very well prevent patients from progressing in their illness.”
Finally, Blanton pleaded with residents to wear masks and face coverings.
“We are in the midst of a significant surge of the virus in our nation, state and community, and while masks are not 100 percent effective, (wearing masks) is definitely effective in preventing the spread of the virus,” Blanton said.
Kerrville Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Foust reported 25 active cases of COVID-19 within the district.
“I will say that like the city, state and nation, we have seen an increase in activity,” Foust said.
Foust said that within two weeks, positive COVID-19 cases went from eight to 25.
“To put that into perspective, every day for 13 weeks roughly, we have had 4,800 students and about 700 employees interacting on multiple campuses each day,” Foust said. “We do not want any cases of COVID-19 in our community, but at the same time, we feel very confident in saying that our mitigation strategies are working.”
Foust said the district is “hanging our hat” on masks and cleaning protocols.
“We think that is making a tremendous difference,” Foust said. “And across the nation and our state, there is really no strong evidence to say that schools are ‘super speader’ locations. In fact, just the opposite.”
Foust addressed a rumor that KISD would be closing, saying that he sent out a letter assuring parents that schools would not be closed due to the local surge in COVID-19 cases.
“Our staff is doing an incredible job in keeping our kids and themselves safe, enforcing the cleaning protocols and the screening protocols and mask-wearing on our campuses,” Foust said. “We have no intent of closing. We haven’t neared any of the self-imposed threshholds we have set for ourselves. We are counting our blessings and we know with the continued hard work from our staff we will be able to do what is best for staff, and students and that is teaching them in person.”
Thoughts from the mayor
Blackburn praised the leadership team of community stakeholders, saying the spirit of collaboration is exceptional.
“I believe this serves the community well,” Blackburn said.
Regarding the use of masks for protection, Blackburn said that while there was some debate in the beginning regarding the efficacy of face coverings, that is no longer the case.
“Now it is clear that masks work and when you don’t wear a mask, you are in danger of catching COVID-19, but also spreading COVID-19,” Blackburn said.
He said he has witnessed individuals in public places not wearing masks properly, not covering the mouth and nose.
“Folks, that is dangerous and I just want to make another appeal … please wear masks, use social distancing, wash the hands … do the basic things to make a difference,” Blackburn said.
The mayor said he has a good friend who lost his father to COVID-19 this week.
“His father got sick last week with COVID. He died on Tuesday,” Blackburn said. “This thing is real and it is dangerous.”