COVID cases declining so far this month

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pershing County are on the decrease this month but were at the highest monthly level ever in January according to County Health Officer Dr. Kamin Van Guilder.

Last week, she gave a pandemic update, her opinion of masks then announced her resignation. 

“Thankfully, we are on a decline but last month was horrid,” she told the health board. “Total number for Pershing County was 1,384 COVID cases as of last night. We’ve had 20 confirmed cases this month. We hit 146 cases in January. That’s the most we’ve ever seen. You can pretty much multiply that by six and that’s the number we probably actually have in the community.”

Disease investigations for the state health department continue at Pershing General Hospital.

“We are still sending in our disease investigation forms for all of our cases but it became quite difficult last month,” Dr. Van Guilder said. “We are thankful things are much less busy right now.”

Hospital staff are no longer doing contact tracing “unless there is a specific event or congregate setting where we feel the need to do very specific contact tracing,” she said. COVID tests are still available, or required, at the hospital and in the clinic for patients, staff and residents.

“We can still send tests to the state for variant typing. The last several have all been Omicron, the variant of concern at this time but there has been a 75 percent decline in the last few weeks. There’s another subtype that’s circulating but it’s not of concern in our area at this point.” 

Vaccinations continue at PGH Physicians Clinic and at the Community Health Nurse Office.

“We’ve given 1,215 total vaccines for COVID since we started and we continue to give them usually two days a week, by appointment only,” Dr. Van Guilder said. “We have given some kids doses but not a ton, unfortunately. We have given almost 130 vaccines to those under 18 and only 18 doses have been given in our clinic to the 5 to 8 age group.”

Dr. Van Guilder recommended booster shots that can prevent serious illness or worse.

“We still encourage them. They do show promise at decreasing hospitalization and death.”

Treatments available at the hospital ER and in the clinic for active COVID-19 infections include the Sotrovimab monoclonal antibody IV treatment and the oral antiviral Paxlovid treatment.

“It was a bit challenging in January when we were super busy,” Dr. Van Guilder said. “We are short staffed just like everywhere else and our nurses were running so I give kudos to the staff.”

The hospital will offer free home COVID tests but “false positives” are a concern.

“We’re not endorsing these particular tests. They are antigen tests, not PCR tests, so they are not as accurate and they need to be confirmed,” she said. “If you have a positive test result,you need a PCR test to confirm it for work or other things like surgery.”

As for the “reduced” mask mandate, Dr. Van Guilder said they are still required in some areas.

“If you are going to be in a large group setting, I still encourage people to wear masks especially if you are around vulnerable people,” she said. “Masks are still required at the hospital, in the clinic and on public transportation. Please respect those rules and recommendations.”

Influenza cases “are on the rise” with three cases last week including one who was infected with both influenza virus and the COVID-19 virus, a double or co-infection known as “flurona.”

Community Health Nurse Marsha Foreman is retiring April 7 so PGH will cover immunizations, family planning and other lost services until the state finds another community health nurse.

Dr. Van Guilder said she will resign as the County Health Officer effective May 1, 2022. She will continue y as a family physician at Pershing General Hospital.

“I’ve done the best job I can for the last two years. It’s been a hard road for all of us.”