While parts of the nation are grappling with an increase in covid-19 cases, local patient outcomes are actually improving, UPMC officials said Wednesday.
Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC president of emergency medicine, said the health system is seeing the fewest inpatients with covid-19 since an increase in early April.
“In summary, in our experience, fewer people are admitted, and when they do, they tend to be much less sick,” Yealy said.
The UPMC update came as Allegheny County announced 45 new positive cases of covid-19 on both Monday and Wednesday, the highest daily totals recorded in nearly two months.
Yealy said there are a number of factors that are likely to improve patient outcomes for the disease, despite the fact that there is no vaccine. Doctors have “more tools in our arsenal,” he said.
For example, many doctors now use steroid medications such as dexamethasone to treat patients with covid-19. Yealy said UPMC has learned to keep patients out of the ventilator unless absolutely necessary, noting more difficulty for patients to successfully exit the ventilator once they are connected.
As of Wednesday, he said, there are only 14 coronavirus patients within the UPMC system who are on a ventilator, one of the lowest numbers since the start of the pandemic.
Yealy also touted the system’s success in preventing outbreaks in the system’s nursing facilities, saying UPMC never used more than 5% of ICU beds and fans, even during the worst pandemic.
UPMC has administered more than 44,000 tests of covid-19, Yealy said. Of these, more than 15,000 were administered to people without symptoms of the disease. Of those without symptoms, only one in 400 tested positive. This suggests, Yealy said, that there are very few people in the communities served by UPMC who are asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
As the state gradually reopens and people flood public places, Yealy was optimistic that with proper security precautions, a return to social life can help the population develop greater immunity, especially among people. younger and healthier.
But Yealy and UPMC quality director Tami Minnier urged people to remain vigilant, especially as a vaccine is being prepared. Even when a vaccine is developed, Yealy and Minnier said it will probably be more effective for young, healthy people compared to elderly patients or those with underlying health problems.
The most vulnerable populations are still at risk, they said.
“The timing of a safe and effective vaccine remains a great yes,” said Yealy.
In preparation for the fall, Minnier said UPMC is increasing its supply of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and face shields. She said that the hospital system intends to have a continuous supply of all items for at least three months.
Preparations for the fall are especially necessary as health experts predict a second wave of the virus in that time period. UPMC leaders said they expect an increase in testing as people contract seasonal illnesses like the cold and flu.
“The reality is that in October and November, we will see cold and flu symptoms in our communities,” said Minnier. “Infectious diseases will be part of our future.”
UPMC participates in the research through its convalescent plasma program, which extracts from blood plasma donated by survivors of coronavirus. Minnier said the system will be part of a national network to evaluate the effectiveness of any vaccine developed, while maintaining the “key focus” in caring for elderly patients and those with underlying health problems.
Minnier also encouraged basic precautions such as washing hands, distancing himself socially, and wearing masks. She supports a state policy that requires the use of masks in all public places.
“This is an important way to protect our vulnerable populations,” he said of the masks.
Yealy emphasized that there is still little concrete information on the virus, the antibodies it leaves, and whether immunity will last in those who survive the infection.
“This is a virus that in October 2019, I didn’t know existed, and neither did anyone else around the world,” he said. “Having declarative statements about what immunity looks like and how long it will last is practically impossible.”
Teghan Simonton is a writer for the Tribune-Review. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter.
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