Editor’s note: Dr. William Miller, chief of staff at the Adventist Health Mendocino Coast Hospital, is writing weekly reports concerning the COVID-19 situation on the Mendocino Coast. We are pleased to be running his health column, with details on the medical fight against the pandemic. The views shared in this weekly column are those of the author, Dr. William Miller, and do not necessarily represent those of The Mendocino Voice or of Adventist Health.
The effect of holiday travel and family get-togethers is beginning to be evident around the State, but also here on the Coast as we are seeing an increased number of folks with respiratory symptoms seeking testing for COVID at our clinics and ER. Fortunately, as of this writing, we only have one patient with COVID in our hospital and six in the hospital in Ukiah, but I expect that to change soon. As the hospitals in Southern California experience increasing numbers things may soon come to a point where we are compelled by the State Health Department to accept transfers from those areas to help them avoid being overwhelmed.
According to Judson Howe, Vice-President for the three Mendocino County Adventist Health (AH) hospitals, the ICU capacity of AH in the northern California region is currently at 28%, above Governor Newsom’s cut off of 15% for invoking stay-at-home orders, but that could change quickly. Howe, along with Dr. Bessant Parker, Chief Medical Officer for the three hospitals, has been leading the combined efforts to keep us prepared for what may lay ahead. “We continue to update and revisit our surge plans to make sure we are ready to care for our community. We’ve cared for over 150 COVID patients since this pandemic started and we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way that have allowed us to improve our processes,” Howe wrote in a COVID update sent to the doctors and staff of the three hospitals this week.
As spread of the virus increases, community testing becomes more important than ever. Lucresha Renteria, the CEO of Mendocino Coast Clinic (MCC), has been working hard to re-establish community testing following the abrupt pull out of the Chen-Zuckerberg free testing program by UCSF in October. MCC has been approved to participate directly with the State’s new testing lab, the PerkinElmer Lab in Valencia, as a test provider. “We are now only waiting to receive the test kits to start testing which should be arriving soon,” Renteria said when I spoke with her. Local community members can call 707-964-1251 to get on a waiting list to be tested as soon as those kits arrive.
As more people test positive through community testing, we need more trained personnel to do contact tracing. Lynne Finely of the Mendocino County Health Department reached out to me asking that I use the Miller Report to extend a call for volunteers to be contact tracers. For more information, call 707-467-3200 extension 333. There is a free 7 hour online course to train as a contact tracer. For more information about the course go to www.volunteerNCO.org. You can also use that website to register for the volunteer program.
An important step to help maintain adequate health care services at this time is coming in the form of the Pfizer vaccine. In a conference led by Dr. Andy Coren, Public Health Officer with the hospital leadership of the three hospitals in the County, I learned that of the 375,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine sent to California, our county has been promised 975 doses. About two-thirds of these will be made available to front line health care workers at the hospitals. This will help ensure that our hospital staff are protected as they care for COVID patients. Dr. Coren expects that we may be able to start vaccinating front line hospital staff by the end of next week. Adventist Health Ukiah Valley hospital has offered to provide the deep freeze refrigerator necessary to store the vaccines for the County while they are distributed. Second wave distribution is expected to target nursing home residents. Third wave distribution will be available to non-front-line health care workers. Estimates vary considerably, as to when the vaccine will be available the general public, but it may be as early as the end of February. As time goes by, it is expected that more vaccines will be approved from different manufacturers and that this may accelerate availability.
I want to extend my sincere appreciation to all of my fellow Coast residents for the support that you are showing to each other during these times. I am confident that, despite the challenges, we will get through this together.