Ozarks Healthcare in West Plains sets new record for COVID-19 admissions

COVID-19 cases rising in Howell County
COVID-19 cases rising in Howell County(KYTV)
Published: Jul. 31, 2021 at 1:58 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 1, 2021 at 3:28 PM CDT
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WEST PLAINS, Mo. (KY3) - Howell County now ranks number one in the state of Missouri for the percentage of people infected with COVID-19. Ozarks Healthcare has reopened its COVID-19 unit and the hospital has reached full capacity.

West Plains, the County seat, is making national news--but it’s not the kind of publicity any town wants. Anderson Cooper recently interviewed an Ozarks Healthcare physician about how some patients don’t want anyone to know they received the vaccination. “It’s really astonishing people are disguising themselves to get the vaccine because they’re afraid of blowback from people,” Cooper said to Dr. Priscilla Frase during a live interview on CNN. Frase confirmed that the hospital has to take extra measures to protect the privacy of people who don’t want friends, family or coworkers to know they got the shot.

As of Friday, July 30, Ozarks Healthcare had 39 COVID-19 patients. Hospital officials say on average, during the past month, someone has died every day from the virus.

Dr. Christopher Cochran, M.D. specializes in internal medicine at Ozarks Medical Center. His office oversees most of the outpatient testing done at the hospital. “The vast, overwhelming majority of our COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Cochran. “And by that I mean in the upper 90′s percentile.” Dr. Cochran added, “We have not admitted a single vaccinated person into our ICU who was suffering with Covid.”

Cochran said that’s because the vaccine is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. It doesn’t guarantee a person won’t get the virus, but so far, vaccinated patients have shown much less severe symptoms if they do contract the virus, and none have died from it. He thinks the risk of side effects from being vaccinated is minimal compared to what can happen if you contract COVID-19 without having received the vaccination.

Cochran was born, raised, and has spent his entire medical career in the Ozarks. He understands why some people are wary of the vaccines--due largely to the vast amount of incorrect information going around.

“I will be the very first to admit that I was absolutely 100% wrong about this disease,” said Cochran. “And that’s one of the reasons that I work so hard to get my community vaccinated because I was wrong and I told my community the wrong things. I didn’t tell anyone this was a fake disease, or it wasn’t real or people weren’t really suffering from it--nothing like that--but I never dreamed it would make it here and do what it’s done to our community.”

Meanwhile, vaccination rates in Howell County remain at some of the lowest levels in the country. Just over 20% of eligible recipients have opted to get the shots. The national average is 56%. However, the Howell County Health Department reports that they’ve seen a significant increase in doses they’ve administered in the past month. They offer vaccine clinics every Friday. A month ago, they gave 20 shots during the clinic. On July 30, they already had given 86 by 2:00, and still had two hours to go.

Pomona resident John Marcum got curbside service at the vaccine clinic when he and his 90-year old father got their first shots. Three of his cousins, all chiropractors, currently are battling COVID. “I guess one’s in real bad shape,” said Marcum. “One of them went to Disneyworld, from what I understand, and got it and brought it back to his brothers.” None of them had been vaccinated. “They just thought they didn’t need it,” said Marcum.

Dr. Cochran said he’s doing everything he can to convince people to get vaccinated. “I don’t know if I hurt people by being wrong,” said Cochran, “but I am trying to help people by being right, and that is to recommend that everyone who can--and that’s almost everyone--get vaccinated for Covid somewhere, somehow.”

Cochran said the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has left the hospital staff stretched thin and stressed out. “If you come into Ozarks Healthcare with a heart attack or stroke or any of those things,” he said, “you’re going to get great care, you’re going to get exactly the care that you need, but you’re going to get cared for by a bunch of tired people, because they’re worn out taking care of a disease that’s so preventable, and it’s pretty frustrating for all of us.”

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