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UPMC: COVID-19 is less prevalent than it was a couple of weeks ago

From left, Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC and University of Pittsburgh Department of Emergency Medicine chairman, and Dr. David Nace, UPMC senior communities chief medical officer, discuss the COVID-19 pandemic in Pittsburgh Thursday during an online news conference. Submitted Photo

There is good news about what medical professionals are learning each day about COVID-19.

Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC and University of Pittsburgh Department of Emergency Medicine chairman, said 500 people have been fully treated and recovered from COVID-19 at UPMC facilities in Pennsylvania, Western New York, Ohio and Maryland. He said that is five times the current number of people currently being treated.

“The virus is less prevalent today than it was weeks ago in all the communities we serve,” he said.

Yealy said he cannot pinpoint one particular reason why the virus is less prevalent today than in the past three months. He said one reason could be the weather because warmer temperatures and higher humidity could be influencing the impact of the virus. He added that the Southern Hemisphere is being impacted now more by the virus than earlier this year because the weather down there has changed to colder temperatures.

Yealy said an additional reason the virus might be less widespread is that medical professionals, with more experience now than three months ago, are making better decisions on how to treat people. Another reason could be the virus has mutated and is not as strong as it once was.

“The total amount of the virus looks like it has come down,” he said. “Even those testing positive have less of it.”

Yealy said throughout the UPMC medical system, 30,000 tests have been performed, with only 4% testing positive. He said the vast majority of people, even the ones who have COVID-19 symptoms, have not been infected. He added, of the 8,000 tests of patients who have entered UPMC medical facilities with no symptoms, only 1 in 400 comes back positive.

“This doesn’t change anything for UPMC,” he said about UPMC facilities being ready to treat all patients. “As things return to normal in our communities, we will continue to take care of all of your health care needs.”

At one point, UPMC was only treating half the number of patients they have the capacity for during the pandemic.

“Now we are almost back to 100% of pre-COVID-19 levels,” he said.

Yealy said as businesses start to reopen in both Pennsylvania and New York, he cannot predict if there will be more cases. He said, however, if people act smart by not going out if they’re feeling sick, wearing a face mask and washing their hands often, the virus can be controlled.

“Those simple things are more important than fretting about looking to be tested,” he said.

During the news conference, Dr. David Nace, UPMC senior communities chief medical officer, discussed testing of residents and staff at UPMC long-term care facilities. He said UPMC has 30 long-term care facilities, with 3,000 residents. He added that, so far, there hasn’t been one single case of COVID-19 amount the residents.

Nace said UPMC officials knew the residents were the most vulnerable population to the virus and were aggressive to “hunt it down.” He said at UPMC Canterbury in Lawrenceville they have tested all 108 residents, with all results being negative. He added that UPMC officials did the same at its Heritage Place in Pittsburgh and, again, all results were negative. Nace said UPMC officials are now expanding its testing program throughout all of its senior communities.

“We can’t test our way of COVID-19,” he said. “It’s a tool, and like all tools, it has to be used correctly.”

Nace said they have started testing Canterbury employees for the presence of antibodies. He said the antibody test will show evidence of if an employee had the virus in the past. He added that by testing employees, UPMC medical officials will start to understand how exposed employees have been to the virus.

Nace said the protections in place to protect the vulnerable senior population will remain in effect for sometime.

“We have to take a measured cautious approach,” he said.

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