By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer, Video by Siegrid Massey | Broadcast Reporter
COVID-19 cases are rising. Local Waco hospital beds are filling up. The Waco area has reached its capacity in morgues. Mayor Dillon Meek begged Wacoans to get vaccinated at a press conference on Wednesday.
Meek said it was his duty as the mayor to alert citizens that the local healthcare system is on the “brink of collapse.”
“I’ve personally heard healthcare leaders express more concern about the current situation than at any other time this pandemic,” Meek said. “At the onset of the pandemic, the primary concern for all communities was hospital capacity and the risk associated with potential system-wide overload: local and state healthcare systems … The doctors and nurses are having to make them think about who to care for and how long.”
Meek said the majority of patients are unvaccinated, but it is about more than having enough beds for COVID-19 patients.
“It’s about making sure that we have the resources necessary to care for both COVID patients and those suffering from complications with a heart attack, serious car crash or any other tragic event that warrants immediate medical attention,” Meek said.
Meek said Wacoans could lack proper care in hospitals if the community doesn’t work to protect each other.
“All 54 ICU beds at Baylor Scott and White, Hillcrest and Ascension Providence are taken right now,” Meek said. “They are using non-ICU beds to care for critical care patients. 92.4% of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated, and healthcare staff, nurses, medical techs and physicians are exhausted and stressed. I myself was invited to tour the situation at one of the hospitals yesterday and saw firsthand how full this hospital is.”
On Sunday night, the Waco area surpassed its capacity for the deceased, and a refrigerated truck had to be used to add capacity, Meek said. The truck was immediately filled.
Meek said anyone who has not gotten the COVID-19 vaccine should speak to his or her doctor and schedule an appointment to be vaccinated.
“If you choose not to get a vaccine, I ask you to respect how contagious this virus is, causing patients of all ages to develop serious illness requiring hospitalization,” Meek said. “Please alter your behaviors by doing things like wearing masks and distancing, so we can reduce hospitalizations and ease the burden on our medical professionals.”
One Wacoan shared his reasoning for getting vaccinated. David Littlewood said when the pandemic first hit, he didn’t think he would get COVID-19 or contract a severe case.
“I had what I would have considered a mild case for about the first week—seven to nine days—and then my case turned very, very dark and very drastic, and I declined,” Littlewood said. “And so from that point forward, for about 10 days, I ran [a] fever 24/7 from 102 to 105, which is a lot of fevers for anybody that’s from adult to senior.”
Littlewood said his doctor helped treat him from home, and he recovered. However, he still didn’t feel right after the virus passed.
“It turns out that COVID actually in some way changed the composition and changed some dynamics as it relates to my heart, and I ended up with a pretty bad case of a-fib, which is an irregular heartbeat that causes your heart, unexpectedly and randomly, to race because it ends up having electrical impulses that misguide your heart to have extra beats.”
Littlewood said he learned that there are more consequences from contracting COVID-19 beyond being sick for a few weeks.
“I just think that we owe it to the world, we owe it to the people around us, the people we love, the people we don’t know who are vulnerable,” Littlewood said. “The vaccine is proven. It works … It’s in everyone’s best interest to just bite the bullet, get the vaccine and go on about your life, and I think that’s the way we return to normalcy … The other piece is just don’t take it for granted that COVID is not going to do some really bad things to you. It’s indiscriminate. It’s completely indiscriminate, and it can happen to you. It can happen to a loved one, and don’t let that be the case.”
Local doctors also spoke in the conference about the severity of COVID-19. Dr. Clint McHenry, president of the McLennan County Medical Society, said he has a letter signed by 294 local physicians explaining the danger of hospitals being too full and the importance of the vaccine, which will be published on Sunday in the Waco-Tribune Herald.
“There are no vaccines of any kind that are 100% safe, nor 100% effective, but real statistics show that the risk of the death of these vaccines are extremely small, and the effectiveness is very high,” the letter stated. “Consider the history of other diseases halted by vaccines. The precedent has been set, and the answer to this tragedy is within our grasp, if only we choose to use it.”
The letter also said disinformation is killing people who have decided to not get vaccinated.
“We spend our days and our careers taking care of our community,” the letter said. “Please, please sign up and get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Even if you don’t feel that you are personally at high risk, unvaccinated individuals will almost certainly eventually develop COVID-19 infection … Please do the responsible thing to prevent the sickness and death we are seeing all around us while we are honored to be considered healthcare heroes. We would much prefer to simply see all of our community members protect each other by following our advice to get vaccinated.”