With COVID-19 numbers surging yet again, local fire and school officials are taking multiple steps to try to limit the fallout among staff members.

Medical Center Hospital officials detailed there were 85 patients hospitalized Wednesday with the virus and 20 of the 26 patients in critical care were on ventilators.

Assistant Fire Department Chief Rodd Huber said that last week his crews were taking anywhere from two to six COVID patients to the hospital per shift, but lately they’ve been transporting as many as 15 patients.

COVID numbers are surging region-wide, Huber said. Eight days ago the number of hospital beds devoted to virus patients was 9% and over the last three days it’s hovered at about 13%.

“It’s not the worst it’s ever been, but man we’re getting close,” Huber said.

Starting Thursday at UTPB the city will partner with UTPB to offer both PCR and rapid antigen testing in a drive through. The testing will run 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Insurance will be billed but tests are free to the insured.

Huber said he tested 10 firefighters for the virus Tuesday and seven of them were positive.

As a result, the department has halted vacations, postponed training events involving more than one company at a time and stopped fire station tours and public relation events, Huber said.

While the Odessa Fire Department has not lost any personnel to the virus, Huber said there have been some who have been hospitalized.

Huber said he is hopeful the United States will follow the same trend being seen in Britain, where the numbers are starting to fall off. In the past, the U.S. has closely followed Britain’s ebbs and flows, he said.

Ector County Independent School District Superintendent Scott Muri said COVID-19 cases are rising very quickly among students and staff members.

On Tuesday night, Muri said over the last two days nearly 500 positive cases had been reported. ECISD’s positivity rate is mirroring that of the county as a whole, the board recap said.

Internal testing is up and running and ECISD nurses are providing tests to students (with parent permission) and staff who request one; a drive-through testing process for employees is now being put into place for those who are not at work, Muri said.

Muri added that new air purifiers have been received and are being put into classrooms and offices throughout the district, the recap said. Sanitizing of buildings and buses is done regularly.

ECISD does not plan to close schools but is planning for the possibility of staff absences leaving a school without enough adults to safely operate a campus, and that could lead to a school being closed temporarily.

Now is not the time to get the flu or do anything that would require hospitalization, Huber said, adding he hopes people will “use their best judgment and common sense” to stay well.

He also urged people who have underlying medical conditions and COVID-19 to seek the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment without delay because there are “tons of success stories” about it.

Regeneron is available at Medical Center Hospital for those who qualify and appointments must be made in advance, Huber said.

MCH Director of Public Relations Trevor Tankersley said Wednesday afternoon that the City of Odessa, local hospitals, schools and Ector County have scheduled a Facebook press conference for 3 p.m. Thursday to discuss the latest COVID developments.

City Editor Ruth Campbell contributed to this report.