COVID-19 is rising in Osage community, but health officials say vaccine is working

Patients from the WahZhaZhe Health Center receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Osage News File Photo

Ever since Dr. Amanda Bighorse joined the WahZhaZhe Health Center as the new Chief Medical Officer in June, she’s had to hit the ground running.

On Aug. 19, she gave a report to the ON Health Authority Board that detailed the clinic’s efforts in addressing the rising cases of COVID-19 in the community. She said she often gets questions about the Delta Variant, but the WZZHC doesn’t track that data.

“I’ve had several questions as to how many of our cases are the Delta Variant, but we don’t check for that [at the WZZHC]. That’s not something we test for,” Bighorse said. “I think typically that’s tested in the hospitals for research purposes, for contact tracing and things like that. We don’t do that. I don’t know many outpatient facilities that do that, actually.”

She said the Delta Variant is more contagious than previous strains of COVID-19 and appears quicker after exposure. It is causing a lot of infections and leading to a lot of hospitalizations, she said.

She included some data from their jurisdictional area and information on total cases, deaths and recovered cases since April 6, 2020.

“Specifically, for the WahZhaZhe Health Center we have tested as of yesterday, from July 1 to (Aug. 18), we have tested 433 individuals and total positive tests were 58. That goes for a 13.4% positive test rate,” she said. “Unofficially, about 3-4 weeks ago I was looking up numbers and we were at about 10 percent. It’s rising.”

The WZZHC’s COVID-19 vaccine administration, from total vaccine doses given from September 2020 to Aug. 18, 2021, was 7,038. Total individuals fully vaccinated, which means either two weeks past their second dose of Moderna, Pfizer, or a Johnson and Johnson shot, was 3,355 as of Aug. 18.

From June 1 to Aug. 3, she said the WZZHC has administered 162 doses of vaccine. She noted that on Aug. 4 after Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear issued an executive memorandum on face masks to ON employees and gave an incentive for fully vaccinated employees, they saw a “big boost” in vaccinations.

“In the past two weeks we’ve given almost as many total doses as the previous two-plus months combined, which is awesome,” she said.

She said she was very proud of her staff, given the intense working conditions.

“I want to give kudos to all of the staff at the WahZhaZhe Health Center, primary care, especially all those nurses, providers who are working extremely hard,” she said. “We are down two providers from previous, and we are down some nurses as well and they have just been working like crazy. They’re doing such an awesome job taking care of … we haven’t really seen a dip in the amount of patients that have been seen. As far as providers and nurses and even with doing the vaccine events and drive-thru testing.”

She said the WZZHC began administering Booster doses of Pfizer and Moderna on Aug. 17 for those patients who fall into the moderate to severely immunocompromised status. On Aug. 18, in a joint statement from the Health and Human Services Public Health and Medical Experts on COVID-19 Booster Shots, vaccine booster shots can be administered to all Americans the week of Sept. 20, as long as it’s 8 months after an individual’s second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Research is ongoing for those individuals who received the single dose of Johnson and Johnson and whether they will need a booster shot.

Bighorse said Drive-thru testing events and vaccine administration events are being planned and WZZHC will advertise those events on social media.

Board member Michael Bristow asked if mandatory vaccinations for the Osage Nation employees has been discussed again with Standing Bear and she said that the issue was discussed Aug. 19, but nothing was decided.

Dr. Cameron Rumsey, Osage, who runs the Pawhuska Family Medical Clinic in Pawhuska, was scheduled to give a report to the health board but he got called away to the ER at the Pawhuska Hospital. However, Rumsey gave a report to the Pawhuska School Board on Aug. 9 about COVID-19 within the Pawhuska community and said cases are rising but that the vaccine is working.

“The main difference we’re seeing is the vaccinations are doing a good job in reducing the severity of symptoms,” he said. “People are vaccinated, they’re confusing their symptoms with allergies, and it’s lasting a day or two, maybe three days and they’re pretty minimal. Unvaccinated people are still ending up in the hospital, they’re on breathing machines, we have two right now that are pretty severe in our hospital. Most of our patients that are testing positive are unvaccinated or are still getting their second dose.”

He encouraged all students ages 12 and older, with parental consent, to get the vaccine. He said the main worry right now is the capacity of the Pawhuska hospital. He said they are so full that if someone needed emergency services such as injuries from a car accident, or if someone had a stroke, a heart attack – “they would sit in our hospital for days.” The larger hospitals they normally transport patients to with severe illness or life-threatening conditions, are full.

“We’re not giving adequate care at our smaller hospitals because of the impact of COVID,” he said.

All WZZHC COVID-19 vaccinations are by appointment only. To talk to a WZZHC healthcare professional or schedule an appointment, please call the COVID Hotline at (918) 287-0028. The Wahzhazhe Health Center is located at 715 Grandview Ave. in Pawhuska.