Local doctors see uptick in pregnant women testing positive for COVID-19

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Savannah Hargett scrolls through alerts on her phone looking for information about pregnancy and COVID-19. 

Hargett is due in six weeks and is making sure she has all the information she can gather before her baby boy arrives. 

“I’m nervous for him to be born with all the things that are going on,” Hargett said. “I don’t want to put any stress on him, or, you know, have these feelings of angst when he’s here.”

Savannah Hargett prepared a nursery for her child, even as she became sick with COVID-19 (Courtesy Savannah Hargett)
Savannah Hargett prepared a nursery for her child, even as she became sick with COVID-19. (Courtesy Savannah Hargett)

The new mom, 25, said she’s finally feeling better after having COVID-19 symptoms. Her husband tested positive last month. She believes he was exposed working at a hotel.

“At first, I thought it just might be allergies, and then when he lost his sense of smell and taste I was like, ‘OK, so now it’s a little more intense than allergies,'” Hargett explained. “I just could not get out of bed. I could not breath through my nose.”

She ended up getting tested several weeks ago and said it came back negative, but she still worries that she had the virus. 

“We don’t know if it’s going to cause lasting damage to our babies, and that’s a huge fear,” Hargett said.

Doctors seeing a spike in cases

It’s a concern Dr. Melanie Collins with Renaissance Women’s Group said she’s hearing a lot among pregnant women who are anxious about how the virus could impact their pregnancy. 

She explained that only recently she’s started to see an increase in pregnant women testing positive. Just around July 4 she said they had 10 positive patients in labor and delivery at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center in one weekend. 

“We started seeing a lot more cases — a lot more people who had been exposed, maybe they hadn’t necessarily even gotten their test back yet, their husband who was an essential worker got diagnosed with COVID and now they were having to quarantine,” Dr. Collins said. “They’re waiting on their tests and, you know, kind of this lack of tests is really difficult, because sometimes they’re waiting like 10 to 14 days before they can even get the test results back, and so during that period of time anxiety is really high.”

Dr. Collins said every woman having a baby is tested for the virus at the hospital and some people who have tested positive have been asymptomatic. 

“Unlike the flu, we don’t seem to be having a lot higher rate of women that are positive and really, really sick,” Dr. Collins explained.

Lack of data is concerning

Austin Public Health said 106 women have reported testing positive for the virus while pregnant in Travis County since March 1. 

The Texas Department of State Health Services explained data for the majority of cases statewide hasn’t made its way to the department yet. 

“One of our weaknesses and part of the reason we don’t really know, you know, how much the disease evolves or how much it affects pregnant women because part of our data sources are not good,” explained Dr. John Thoppil, President of Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

According to a new study by the CDC, pregnant women who get infected are more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit and put on a ventilator than other women with COVID-19.

“When we see pregnant women hospitalized right now, we don’t have the capability of saying, ‘Were they actually hospitalized because they were delivering … or was she hospitalized because she had complications of this disease?'” Dr. Thoppil said.

Dr. Collins explained that the data right now only gives us a small sliver of information. 

“It’s hard to take that and feel really confident that we’re seeing everything. We may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg, as to what may be happening even long term with patients — both moms and babies,” Dr. Collins said. 

Getting ready for her baby

Doctors are keeping a close eye on preterm labor and other complications in women who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Savannah Hargett believes she got COVID-19 from her husband who tested positive. They have both recovered, but she worries about long term impacts on her baby. (Courtesy Savannah Hargett)

Dr. Collins is telling pregnant women to wear masks, limit exposure to other people and only do essential things during pregnancy. 

Haregett finally has her energy back and is feeling much better. She said her husband has also recovered. She plans on getting an antibody test. 

“I want to give women some peace of mind,” Hargett said. “Just don’t panic, like — you’re going to get through it.”

The interior designer specializes in Airbnb redecoration and has spent weeks getting her baby boy’s nursery ready. His sonogram pictures fill the walls and toys are already tucked away around his book shelf. 

“I do love being in here. It’s really soothing,” Hargett said. “I’m just really looking forward to not worrying so much about the rest of the world, and worrying a lot more about my own little world.”

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