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Fighting COVID-19: A look inside Methodist University’s COVID unit

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 5:40 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tuesday,115 Mid-Southerners were being treated for COVID 19 at Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare.

It’s the largest number of COVID patients in nearly a week. While case numbers in Shelby County slowly decline, doctors said it’s not time to let our guard down.

Action News 5 got a tour of Methodist University Hospital’s COVID-19 isolation unit, the first local news crew to get the tour since the summer Delta case surge.

Our reporter and photographer were given 20 minutes in the wing. First, they were given proper PPE, including an N-95 mask, then a surgical mask to go on top of it, and hair and shoe covers.

The crew was not allowed in any rooms where a virus patient was being treated. On the floor, staff is just now seeing some rooms stay empty longer than a few hours.

“The truth is we’re still triple the numbers we were seeing earlier in the summer,” said Methodist physician, Dr. John Eick.

Of the 115 COVID-19 patients in the hospital’s network, 23 are new patients. That’s the largest number since September 9.

Eick showed us around the unit. It has 48 beds. Most are ICU and stepdown beds.

Every room is negative pressure. Some of the intense treatment patients receive can be heard in the hallways.

“The hissing noise is high-flow oxygen, vapotherm,” Eick said. “It’s a more powerfully delivered oxygen than you typically think of when you see someone wheeling around in the community with a tank of oxygen.”

Eick said the treatment pumps 40 liters of oxygen per minute into the body. Monitors outside patients’ rooms show some of the oxygen depletion they’re experiencing.

Eick said now he’s seeing about three COVID-19 patients a week. At the peak, he saw nearly half a dozen every day. The toll of what he saw this summer still sticks with him even as case numbers slowly begin to go down.

“I’ve had more of my patients die during this surge than all of prior COVID combined,” Eick said.

Between Monday and Tuesday, Shelby County counted 139 new COVID-19 cases. The community is averaging 242 new cases every day.

Eick said a majority of his patients, especially those who are dying, are unvaccinated.

To find a vaccination location near you or to learn more about the shot that is available to everyone 12 years old and older, click here.

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