Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy tweeted a chart taken from the COVID-19 Coconino County Schools update on Sept. 17, which showed Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC) as having no open beds.

“Our hospital is full,” Deasy tweeted. “We are at a critical point. This isn’t just about getting COVID. This affects all injuries and illnesses people are facing in our community who need healthcare. #MASKUPAZ.”

According to a KAFF News interview with FMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Derek Feuquay, 14 beds opened in FMC about two hours after this report was published. He also explained how statements such as the mayor’s carry the risk of spreading unnecessary concern about the state of the pandemic.

On Sept. 20, Deasy posted an additional tweet to provide updated information on hospital capacity. Attached were several reports showing an increase in positive cases of COVID-19 within FMC. Additionally, Deasy presented a series of tables and a statement from the Coconino County Department of Health and Human Services (CCHHS), which showed the ICU in FMC had reached maximum capacity.

Another edition of the COVID-19 Coconino County Schools update, released Sept. 24, showed FMC had seven available beds, none of which are located in its emergency department.

According to a CCHHS report published Sept. 24, Flagstaff has seen an 85% increase in COVID-19 cases throughout September, resulting in 12,686 positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic. More positive cases likely means more hospital beds will be occupied, and thus needed. 

This issue is exacerbated by the fact that FMC is the only level one trauma center in northern Arizona. Due to this classification, FMC has handled a significant amount of COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic from across Coconino County. In fact, many of the 1,500-plus Coconino County residents hospitalized from the disease were treated at FMC, and those currently needing medical attention may require admission.

If the hospital reaches capacity, NAU Assistant Director of Communications Heidi Toth said the school is confident in the strength of Flagstaff’s community health systems.

“The health care providers at Campus Health Services are happy to see patients with any medical conditions if they are sick or injured and unsure where to go for care,” Toth said. “A medical provider can treat individuals here on campus, or can advise them to go to the hospital if their symptoms require a higher level of care. Campus Health Services typically provides care for minor injuries, upper respiratory symptoms, lacerations or abrasions and many other medical issues.”

Toth said she remains confident in the ability of FMC and other providers to care not only for the city, but for the region as a whole. Toth encouraged NAU students to get vaccinated and reminded the Flagstaff community of the university providing vaccinations for any and all residents, regardless of their association with the school.

“NAU students can help prevent hospitals from getting overcrowded in the future by taking good care of their own health — get vaccinated for all vaccine-preventable diseases, wear a mask, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, don’t drink too much alcohol and wash your hands,” Toth said.

If they experience any of the following symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19, Toth said students should go to the hospital immediately: Trouble breathing; new confusion; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; the inability to wake up or to stay awake; and pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds — depending on skin tone.

In his interview with KAFF News, Feuquay said FMC will always provide service for members of the Flagstaff community in need.

Though FMC may continue to see occasional instances of overcrowding, residents who received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine should have less concern. According to the Sept. 24 CCHHS report, the vaccine is working as intended with breakthrough cases comprising only 3.7% of current infections in Coconino County. Vaccine appointments can be made at a number of locations throughout the region.

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