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UPMC and COVID-19 Update
By Kevin Brown

Health care providers are charged not only with treating COVID-19 patients, but also with keeping their patients and employees safe from the virus and helping to prevent the spread of the virus in the communities they serve.

UPMC is meeting those challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on many fronts. At a July press briefing, UPMC officials discussed their efforts in COVID-19 testing, treatment, prevention and research. Officials at the briefing included Graham Snyder, M.D., M.S., medical director, Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology, Tami Minnier, chief quality officer, and Donald M. Yealy, M.D., senior medical director and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UPMC.

The early summer surge in COVID-19 cases that hit the U.S. was certainly unexpected and officials at UPMC noticed a difference in those being affected.

“Our testing data and that of our partners at the county and state health departments indicate disease cases are largely linked to younger people who contracted the virus either while traveling or while socializing without masks or proper distancing. The median age of those testing positive in Allegheny County is under 30,” said Dr. Snyder.

The effects of the virus do not seem to be as severe in the younger age group, according to the officials. “We're also not seeing the same mortality that we were seeing in the spring at the emergence of the epidemic,” Dr. Snyder noted.

Early on in the pandemic, those affected most severely by the COVID-19 virus were older adults with underlying health conditions. Preventative measures such as social distancing, masking, frequent hand-washing and other infection control techniques appeared to be effective in protecting the vulnerable age group.

“In early spring, our policymakers enacted broad social limits to help flatten the curve,” Dr. Yealy said. “We can avoid returning to that if we all do the simple things that are proven to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 illness or infection. Wear a mask in public and wear it properly to cover your mouth and nose. Stay home when you're sick. Wash your hands and stay extra vigilant to protect the elderly and others who are vulnerable,” he explained.

UPMC was at the forefront of efforts to combat the pandemic through testing, according to Minnier. “When it became clear early on that we would likely see cases in our community, and there were no other options available for testing, we developed our own COVID-19 tests and provided it to our communities well ahead of anything being available commercially,” she said. “We're now adding drive-through testing to accommodate the additional demand for testing in Allegheny County. I'm incredibly proud of the work that we began here and know that UPMC continues to do more testing than any health care facility that certainly I'm aware of, at this point in time in our region.”

Minnier also noted that UPMC has taken extra steps to ensure the safety of their patients, visitors and employees. “Our facilities are safe and clean. And we are employing the latest evidence-based infection prevention practices to give our patients the confidence that UPMC will provide them the world class care they need whenever needed,” she said.

That innovation from UPMC is also evident in research into COVID-19 treatment protocols. While there is much to be learned about the effectiveness of medications, UPMC is involved in research into the use of hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir, among other medications. Doctors cautioned, however, about the need for completely researching medications.

“It takes time,” Dr. Yealy said. “It's not something that you can get an answer within weeks or even a couple months. We want to do it right, not just quick.”

While healthcare providers have been resuming some patient care services that had been curtailed in the spring, Dr. Yealy advised the public to keep up with regular healthcare visits.

“Please don't delay your healthcare because fears of or from COVID-19,” he said. “If you're due for a preventative care visit, like cancer screening or even a simple annual exam, don't cancel it because you fear getting COVID-19 illness or infection. If you think you might have a medical emergency, such as early signs of a heart attack or a stroke, or if something's just not right with your child, go to the emergency department. Don't hesitate. Our care sites are safe. Our staff is well equipped and well trained. Delaying care is how little issues and small problems become big issues and big problems.”

For more information about UPMC and COVID-19, visit the UPMC website at www.upmc.com, or call
1-800-533-UPMC.

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