WOODWARD, Okla. — A hospital in the Oklahoma panhandle — struggling to cope with 116 positive COVID-19 cases among workers at a nearby meat processing plant — recently sent several coronavirus patients to a facility in a nearby county due to that facility's designation as a regional hospital for pandemics.

AllianceHealth in Woodward, in northwest Oklahoma, often is takes patients from smaller hospitals that can't care for them. Texas County Emergency Manager Harold Tyson said the Guymon hospital only has one isolation room, which needs a separate air circulation system or air purifiers. Most of the Texas County cases were employees of Seaboard Foods, a pork processing company near Guymon. 

“We send all of our patients, our critical patients, to Woodward,” Tyson said. 

Doug Ross, director of marketing and outreach, said AllianceHealth Woodward for years has been a regional facility, with resources and capabilities other hospitals in that part of the state do not have. 

“We have known from the beginning stages of planning for the COVID-19 virus that we are surrounded by critical access hospitals that do not have intensive care units, and that we would be a transfer possibility for COVID patients, depending on our patient census, PPE and staffing,” Ross said. “We have prepared for a surge in our community and surrounding areas, and so far, the surge of patients has not exceeded our capacity.”

A group of independent physicians and a health care team has prepared to care for COVID patients, Ross said.

“We do consider each transfer on an individual basis, taking into consideration the care and safety of our non-COVID patients, all staff and the possibility of COVID cases coming in from our own community at any time,” Ross said. 

Since AllianceHealth has an ample supply of personal protective equipment, patients are cared for in designated and dedicated areas to facilitate a safe environment for staff and patients, Ross said. While the hospital admits patients from surrounding areas, Ross is confident it has the capacity and staff to provide typical patient care for the Woodward community, as well as local COVID patients.

Woodward County reported only one positive test for COVID-19 compared with 274 positive tests in Texas County as of Wednesday, May 6, according to the state Health Department. Woodward and Texas counties each have a population of about 20,000 people. None of the officials would say how many patients have been transferred to Woodward, or other hospitals.

Texas County, where Guymon is the county seat, has been especially hard hit, with 274 cases — the fifth-highest in the state. There were 16 new positive cases Tuesday. Oklahoma currently has 230 COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

“The new positive results are for 14 Guymon residents and two Hooker residents. Of all confirmed county cases, the Oklahoma State Department of Health is reporting 96 recovered in Texas County,” said Miranda Gilbert, public information officer for Texas County Emergency Management.

Even though Oklahoma state officials had told emergency management personnel in Northwest Oklahoma no more supplies would be sent out, Gov. Kevin Stitt has been made aware of Guymon’s plight and is sending a truck with supplies this week, Tyson said. He added that the National Guard will be arriving next week to test Seaboard employees.

“Seaboard’s done a good job,” Tyson said. “They're screening everybody that comes in, taking temperatures. They slowed their chain way, way down so their people are not close to each other. … They're doing good there, but when their people leave the plant, that's when it happens.”

Family members in the area may work at different plants, even as far away as Liberal, Kansas. The contagion can spread when they come together after they leave work, Tyson said.

Seward County, where Liberal is located, also is home to meat-processing plants and has recorded more than 600 positive tests.

Texas County Health Department has performed approximately 445 tests, said Regional Director Terri Salisbury.

“We have no active cases in Woodward County,” Salisbury said. 

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