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In Midland-Odessa, Health Officials Urge Vaccinations As COVID-19 Cases Spike And The Delta Variant Spreads

Since the beginning of July, hospitals in Midland and Odessa have seen a fast uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Currently, Midland-Odessa’s vaccination rate has plateaued with only around 37% of eligible residents fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and leaders are pleading with locals to get vaccinated to prevent a new wave of coronavirus cases. 

By Mitch Borden 

Midland Memorial Hospital and Medical Center Hospital in Odessa, the region’s two major medical providers, both went from treating a few patients with COVID-19 to caring for over twenty people with the coronavirus in a matter of weeks. The Delta variant has been confirmed in both communities and some local health officials worry that if something isn’t done fast this spike in cases will only increase.

  • The spike in cases in Midland spurred local leaders to hold a public briefing on the coronavirus for the first time since April. Until recently cases had remained low and local leaders felt briefings weren’t needed.

  • Midland Memorial CEO Russell Meyers explained via Facebook Live on Wednesday that his hospital had gone from treating around four patients with COVID-19 on July 4 to approximately 24. The patients' ages ranged from those in their 20s to a patient in their 90s. Twenty-four COVID-19 patients may seem low after last year when hospitals were dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 patients, but that dramatic increase has Meyers and his staff preparing for an even larger surge in hospitalizations for the disease, which he believes is being caused by the Delta variant. 

Health Officials in Midland and Odessa, as well across the United States, are certain that the best way to stave off the spread of the Delta variant is for individuals to get a COVID-19 vaccine and to continue wearing masks while also social distancing. But this is a challenge for places like the Midland - Odessa area where vaccination efforts have stagnated. 

  • So far approximately 37% of Midland’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, while about 36% of eligible Odessans have gotten all of their shots. Compared to the state’s average, the vaccination rate in Midland and Odessa is low. So far, over 50% of qualified Texans have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

  • Midland Memorial Hospital and Odessa's Medical Center Hospital were both major vaccination hubs in West Texas that distributed tens of thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Now officials are struggling to get people to turn out to vaccination clinics. In the virtual coronavirus briefing earlier this week, Midland Memorial’s CEO Russell Meyers expressed his frustration with the area’s low vaccination rate. “It’s a terrible shame that two-thirds of our community has still resisted getting vaccinated when it is readily available.” He continued, “it’s free and it’s a tremendous scientific achievement that we’re ignoring.”

Midland Medical officials say those who are hesitant to receive the vaccine vary. 

  • Meyers said that the hospital has struggled to convince younger Midlanders as well as many who identify as conservative to get vaccinated. He said if anyone doesn’t want to get vaccinated then they need to wear a mask and social distance to prevent the spread of the Delta variant. “If you’re not willing to put on a mask,” he said, “if you’re not willing to stop going to parties, that’s fine — get vaccinated.”

  • During the coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, it became obvious that health officials would have an uphill battle convincing those who are hesitant to get their shots when Midland Mayor Patrick Payton admitted in the press conference that he was leery of the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Payton told viewers that he had only so far received his first dose of a vaccine and then admitted that if he wasn’t mayor he wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated. He explained, “I didn’t get vaccinated because I was worried about my health, I got vaccinated because I was worried about the health of people around me.” Payton went on, “If you want to be even more blunt about it, if I wasn’t the mayor I wouldn’t have gotten vaccinated at this point.” 

Midland Memorial is currently preparing for more people to get sick, while also working to get more people vaccinated.

  • Midland Memorial is preparing to open up more beds for coronavirus patients and has reached out to traveling nurse agencies to help staff those beds if they are needed. Meyers stated that the hospital is well stocked with personal protective equipment like masks and gowns. He also said the hospital is prepared to pause elective surgeries like it did during the height of the pandemic if needed. 
Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.