Photo Credit: 
Carl Lewis | The Chronicle
A tent used as an overflow waiting area is shown in front of the emergency room entrance at Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton Tuesday.
A tent used as an overflow waiting area is shown in front of the emergency room entrance at Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton Tuesday.

LAWTON — COVID-19 cases have increased more than 3000% at Comanche County Memorial Hospital since the end of July, prompting state and local officials to erect a large tent to be used as an additional emergency room waiting area for the foreseeable future.

The scene at CCMH has been described by a hospital spokeswoman as a large-scale “medical emergency” that will likely last for several days, if not weeks.

Use of the 19-foot by 36-foot medical tent, provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, was prompted by an influx of COVID-19 patients and others with non-COVID-19 illnesses, said hospital spokeswoman Nicole Jolly.

“Right now, it’s being used to help with the overflow of people waiting to be seen in the emergency department. Whether it’s used to treat patients will be determined at a later time,” she said.

As of Sept. 7, all intensive care unit beds were full, according to the hospital’s website. Thirteen of the 14 patients in ICU beds are unvaccinated, records show. Meanwhile, the hospital shows 61 COVID-19 patients in the hospital with 49 of them unvaccinated. CCMH had two COVID-19-related hospitalizations at the end of July.

“This is an emergency and has been since the weekend,” Jolly said. “The ICU is full and so are the emergency rooms. Waiting rooms are being used for triage and could eventually be used as a medical ward.”

COVID-19 sparked the crisis and will likely eclipse the record of 63 infected patients the hospital treated in January. With 61 COVID-19 patients being treated now, hospital officials believe they will exceed that number in the next 48 hours.

“The expected peak is around Sept. 14 or Sept. 16, so we’ll be using the tent as long as needed,” Jolly said. “We’re not just low on beds, we’re low on staff. Everyone from directors and managers are working the floors when they normally wouldn’t be. We’re seeing patients in ER waiting rooms and hallways.”

The dearth of beds will likely be a long-term situation, since many COVID-19 patients are in the hospital for 10-30 days, Jolly said.

At the same time, many patients with non-COVID-19 related illnesses continue to appear in the emergency room and regular hospital wards, prompting hospitals and physicians to recommend that patients seek treatment at urgent care offices for non-emergency medical care.

“We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen, but we have to be prepared,” Jolly said.

Currently, all available CCMH hospital beds are full, and 27 patients are waiting for a bed, the website shows.

Comanche County has 871 active COVID-19 cases with 590 of those in Lawton, according to figures released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

As of Sept. 7, the county had a 55% vaccination rate with residents getting at least one dose, according to figures from the website covidactnow.org. The county rate aligns with the statewide rate of 55.2%, the website shows. Figures also show 44% of eligible Comanche County residents are fully vaccinated. People 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated.