‘It definitely is more significant’ | Local doctor warns pregnant COVID cases becoming more severe

Local Coronavirus Coverage

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Obstetricians, along with frontline health care workers, report seeing a rise in the number of pregnant COVID patients being admitted to hospitals.

Dr. Robert Saunders is the head of the obstetrics department at Ballad Health’s Indian Path Hospital in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Saunders told News Channel 11 Friday that it has become more dangerous for his pregnant patients than ever before during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“What we’re seeing now is a current surge that is definitely much more dangerous for the pregnant patient when we actually had in the surge last year,” Saunders said. “Although we decrease services in the hospital appropriately, we didn’t see quite as much of the affected pregnant patients. This time with the Delta variant, we certainly are seeing more affected patients. We’re seeing more affected pregnant patients. We actually have had a number of deaths of pregnant patients here in the Tri-Cities, so it definitely is more significant and something that we need to be a lot more aggressive about.”

Saunders explained that there is no evidence indicating that it is better to contract COVID-19 at any one point during pregnancy as opposed to another in terms of how sick the patient could get. However, he said 80-90% of patients who develop COVID are either asymptomatic or have mild disease, and they will do fine with it.

“That’s the first thing to realize; however, you’re at a three to four times higher chance of having moderate to severe disease because of pregnancy, and those pregnancy-related changes increase the farther along that you get in pregnancy,” Saunders said. “So, second and third trimester, you’re going to be much more symptomatic, you’re going to have more of the problems with the high blood pressure issues, the respiratory issues, and the bleeding issues.”

He said another concern for physicians is that it’s not just one patient, but two that they’re dealing with due to the unborn fetus. The third thing that they are dealing with is the medications and tools utilized in order to help those patients.

“It is equally, if not more, devastating when a young lady, a pregnant mom, and there is an unborn fetus that may or may not be affected also,” Saunders said.

Caring for pregnant patients is even more of a drain for health care workers, Saunders explained. He said treatment options are limited.

“It is really, really heartbreaking when you see these patients who are admitted, and they’re having such difficulty breathing, and you’re having to make such hard choices on how to manage it,” he said. “You really can’t even begin to describe what it’s like to not be able to take a breath, or have free access to air as you’re breathing and there not be a clear plan to say, ‘this is what we do, you will get better.'”

He recommended that people who are pregnant and who do become infected with the virus contact their primary health care provider immediately.

“The big take-home message is that if you’re positive, make sure you call your provider because I’ve spoken to providers from all the groups throughout the Tri-Cities. Everybody is attuned to this, everybody’s trying to get these patients taken care of,” Saunders said. “We’re all trying to get that monoclonal antibody going, we’re all trying to get the vaccine out, but most importantly we’re trying to get that information out so that people know what their risks are, what can be done.”

He said though the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal choice, everybody — but most especially pregnant people — should consider getting the shot in order to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and death.

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