Ascension Providence and Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest hospitals are preparing for a large-scale vaccination effort that would effectively end the coronavirus pandemic here in McLennan County.
Dr. Brian Becker, chief medical officer with Ascension, spoke of his facility’s efforts Thursday during the weekly city-county COVID-19 press conference.
“We are beginning to look at what a vaccination plan looks like,” he said. “How do we store that product, how do we administer that product.” Becker also cited preparations to utilize promising monoclonal antibody therapies for mild to moderate COVID-19 cases, a treatment that received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration last week.
Becker then paused, and deftly pointed out, “Neither of those are here.”
The new COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer is reportedly 90 percent effective. It’s the first of several vaccines in the works and, like all the others, will eventually make its way to Providence as well as Hillcrest.
But that’s the home stretch we haven’t yet entered.
COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising in McLennan County right now. Dr. Jackson Griggs, CEO of the Family Health Center, says we’re in uncharted territory of exponential spread.
The case rate per 100,000 population, the most widely used measurement, is 24 percent higher in McLennan County than statewide, and 38 percent higher than the nationwide mark.
In the past two weeks, the active case count here increased from 512 to 1,138 — a 122 percent increase.
Becker said he was very concerned about the next week or two, even as local hospitalizations spiked as high as 78 this past week — a level not seen since July. Even with expanded ICU capacity, there’s a limit to how many patients local hospitals can handle. He reminded us that hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators by one to two weeks. That’s an ominous warning, considering 13 people have already died this month after a record 44 deaths in October.
As surge testing continues locally — just over 17,000 of 40,000 tests designated for use in McLennan County have been used so far — the percentage of positive tests is going up, not down. The positivity rate is 7.5 percent among the surge tests, but 13 percent overall. It has more than doubled since Oct. 28, and Halloween parties and gatherings are a big reason why. That’s not good news with Thanksgiving, a holiday literally made for family gatherings, coming up in under two weeks.
The message from local medical professionals this past week is clear: We’re in for some dark days ahead as cases increase. We know hospitalizations and deaths are sure to increase in the days and weeks to follow.
There is good news on the horizon. Vaccines are coming, and in the testing phase they appear to be very effective in preventing COVID-19. But widespread distribution is still months away. In the meantime we find ourselves in a more deadly wave than what we experienced this summer.
We must do what we can to save lives, prevent costly hospital stays and protect our vulnerable population while we wait for a vaccine to become available.
Mask up. Wash our hands. Practice social distancing.