As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in our region, many are concerned with hospitals potentially becoming overwhelmed with an influx of patients.
Health care officials with UPMC say their hospitals are busy, but not overwhelmed.
Parts of rural Pennsylvania, like Blair, Cambria and Somerset counties are dealing with the same kind of COVID-19 case spikes which major urban cities were seeing at the beginning of the pandemic. But healthcare providers with UPMC say they’re prepared. As a result, UPMC has given additional resources to hospitals in our region. Including 60 additional nurses to the Altoona Hospital.
“We are opening up new medical beds at Somerset Hospital which is only about 30 minutes away. So that gives us a little bit of a vile for Altoona. We added more testing, equipment at Altoona. We sent a few ventilators over, just in case they need them, but they haven’t. So, we are stand at the ready. We are here to help them in any way,” said UPMC’s senior VP, Leslie Davis.
UPMC’s locations are also preparing to receive and distribute Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines. But before anyone receives a COVID-19 vaccine, UPMC will wait for FDA review and issuing of emergency use authorization.
“I cannot stress enough although the ability to offer a highly effective COVID-19 vaccine is truly fantastic news. It does not mean we can stop wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands. These fundamental interventions work together with vaccines and antibodies to bring an end to the pandemic,” said Dr. Graham Snyder.
Officials say it could be months before the general public receives the COVID-19 vaccine. They are first prioritizing healthcare workers and the elderly, the most vulnerable populations. But for UPMC healthcare workers, the vaccine will not be mandatory.
“While we are very excited about the preliminary information about how safe the vaccine is and how it will work, we don’t have any other data that we have based a mandatory flu vaccination on,” said Snyder. “So, for now, until we learn more and build our own experience with this vaccine plus until we see the uptake of the vaccine in our communities and have an understanding of its role in ending the pandemic, it’s not the right thing to make it mandatory. It will be voluntary,” he added.
UPMC officials say several healthcare workers have already volunteered to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.