By Thomas B. Langhorne
Evansville Courier & Press
EVANSVILLE — Midway through a news conference Monday, Deaconess Health System President Dr. James Porter offered an internal statistic intended to give the COVID-19 surge some scale.
On July 23 — 17 days ago — the health system had 21 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals. The current number, 105, is exactly five times as high.
And the new crop of patients is younger than those in the early days of the pandemic, Porter said. More than 60% of coronavirus patients hospitalized at Deaconess are younger than 65.
“Even more poignantly, in the testing, the vast majority of our positive tests are now in the 18-44 age group,” he said. “And because there’s always a lag between positive tests and hospitalizations, I think we should expect that that average age of people in the hospital likely will continue to go down.”
Things will get worse with COVID-19 before they get better, Porter said.
The warnings punctured any hope residents may have had that the current delta variant-fueled surge could be just a flare-up and that things will settle down again soon. But Porter also stressed mask-wearing and vaccination, saying those measures offer the hope that “there are things that we can do to blunt the rise of this surge.”
Porter opened his news conference in a Deaconess Gateway Hospital conference room with some numbers intended to convey the shock and awe of the current surge. Deaconess’ count of 105 hospitalized COVID-19 patients is the highest total since Feb. 6, he said. Of those 105, at least 91 are unvaccinated. Thirty-two are in intensive care units, 18 on ventilators.
Porter looked ahead, offering bad news and, potentially, better news.
“We know we’re not at the top of this peak,” he said. “Other places, these have played out over the course of several weeks, and we’re in the earlier phases of it here.
“So we would anticipate that it’s going to continue to get worse — and how much worse it gets will have everything to do with what we do as a community with regard to how we get vaccinated and how we use masks, especially in public spaces.”
Porter, who joined Deaconess in 2000 as an adult and pediatric hospitalist, is one of the top executives at Deaconess. Two front-line health care providers told the Courier & Press last week they are seeing the same things.
Taylor Meriweather, a student nurse and patient care technician at Deaconess, said the surge is right in front of her eyes.
“I have not seen many COVID patients on the regular floors, but on an ICU I worked on last week, there were only 17 rooms and about six or seven of those rooms were COVID patients,” Meriweather said. “That was a big change. That’s kind of showing you.”
Registered nurse Lynn Maserejian wonders about regret in COVID-19 patients.
“It’s disheartening to see these people come into the hospital,” Maserejian said. “They’re sick. They didn’t get the vaccine, and you just wonder how many of these people feel like, ‘I wish I’d gotten the vaccine. I wouldn’t be laying here on a ventilator.'”
Pounding home the theme that vaccination is an imperative if COVID-19 is to be defeated, Porter on Monday employed some of his strongest language yet in the pandemic against anti-vaccination narratives.
“There’s a lot of disinformation, a lot of people, frankly, lying to people about the vaccines out there,” he said. “Clearly, the experience that we’re seeing — what’s been seen around the country, what’s been seen other places in the world — is these vaccines work.
“Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people who we will see hospitalized and who we will see die as a result of this surge could have been vaccinated, and it could have been prevented.”