(CNN) – Vera Middleton wishes she had been vaccinated against covid-19.
This 66-year-old great-grandmother from Olive Hill, Kentucky, said she and her husband talked about getting the vaccine, but they put it off and ultimately decided against it. He couldn’t explain why.
Middleton spoke to CNN on Wednesday while receiving a high flow of oxygen, saying she believes she caught COVID-19 from her granddaughter, who fell ill. The virus then spread to all the inhabitants of his house.
Middleton is doing better and now encourages her family, and others, to get vaccinated. On Wednesday, he cried when speaking to CNN, explaining that he thought he would die if they put him on a respirator. Through tears, she also thanked the medical staff profusely and explained the support her church gave her when she needed it.
“With the grace of God, he is the one who has brought me here. God has brought me to where I am now, and I praise him,” she said in her hospital bed through tears, adding that she hopes the message that people receive from her history is not that of getting vaccinated, but of knowing that “there is a God, and without him I would not be here today.”
Feelings like Middleton’s are common in Appalachia, a region that runs from southern New York to northern Alabama and Georgia, where many people don’t believe in the vaccine or hesitate to get vaccinated, according to medical professionals who spoke to CNN. .
Due to this indecision, the COVID-19 has been overwhelmed in Kentucky, where almost all 120 counties in the state are in the “red” zone for COVID-19 and hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed, according to Governor Andy Beshear.
As of this Wednesday, around 49.5% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, according to an analysis of CNN data.
A hospital is 130% over capacity
One of these hospitals, the St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, about 104 kilometers east of Lexington, is one of the hardest hit by the influx of covid-19 patients. It is the largest healthcare facility serving 11 counties in rural northeast Kentucky and is currently 130% over capacity, according to St. Claire Health Care CEO Donald Lloyd.
“I think this is now a wave of fear and these people are afraid of a vaccine that could save their lives, and that is why they are now in the hospital,” said Dr. William Melah, medical director of St. Claire Health Care. .
Between 85% and 88% of patients are not vaccinated, Melah said.
“It’s like we are at war with this virus,” said Courtney Hollingsworth, a nurse in the covid-19 intensive care unit at St. Claire Medical Center. “We’re not at war with each other, you know, because of their beliefs and stuff, it’s really a war with this virus.”
The hospital had to close three operating rooms to expand the intensive care unit space, Beshear said.
As a result, it has become a problem for regular patients who want to come in for emergency care, Melah said. Some have to wait up to 24 hours to be seen or until someone gets better or dies, he said.
The governor said he sent a team of nurses to St. Claire along with a couple dozen National Guard members to help with the influx of patients, but staff say it may not be enough.
“We could need twice as many doctors as here,” Lloyd said.
The increase in patients is also affecting the spirits of the hospital staff.
“It is a defeat to put someone else on a respirator,” said Joelle Craft, a nurse in the intensive care unit for covid-19. “It is a defeat to put another person in the prone position or paralyze them or watch them take more samples. It is a defeat to see the healthcare providers I care about or myself standing by the bed when someone dies alone. It is also defeat. a defeat to see another person put in a body bag, “he said.
Dr. Cory Yoder, a St. Claire family physician, said she has had to drag a couple of nurses out of the hall and into a room alone because they burst into tears for their patients.
“They just feel like there’s no hope and that’s not how our ICU nurses are,” Yoder told CNN.
The state of emergency is extended until January 2022
Kentucky currently has more than 600,000 covid-19 cases and nearly 8,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Beshear said the state had 30,000 cases last week, the highest number in a week. From Saturday to Tuesday, 13,005 positive cases of covid-19 and 60 new deaths were registered, of which eight were under 50 years of age.
As a result of this rebound, Kentucky lawmakers voted Tuesday to extend the state of emergency, which expired on Friday, until January 15, 2022.
The increase in cases illustrates that large urban hospitals are not the only ones being bombarded by patients, Beshear said. “It’s the regional hospitals that don’t normally treat incredibly sick patients that are overcrowded,” he said.
When asked if doctors and hospitals were getting to the point of rationing care, the governor said the state can still move patients from one hospital to another.
“But we are right at that point, or we are fast approaching it,” he said.
– Artemis Moshtaghian, Kristina Sgueglia, Liam Reilly, Mirna Alsharif and Kiely Westhoff contributed to this report.