While I would like to share in an update that things have turned a corner with COVID, we have reason to be concerned that the coming days and weeks will pose a significant challenge to hospitals here in Tennessee and across the nation.
For the sixth day in a row, the U.S. has seen more than 100,000 new cases, and the number of patients in Tennessee hospitalized for COVID is at its highest point yet as admissions have grown by 23% in the past two weeks.
Some states are already without capacity due to hospitalizations rising as winter approaches. Here in Middle Tennessee, we are managing ever-increasing numbers of cases as some facilities in smaller, rural communities have stopped new admissions. This is resulting in larger hospitals, like VUMC, serving as backstops.
At VUMC, we have seen the following trends over the past month:
- The overall number of COVID-19 positive patients has increased by 25%.
- Our daily COVID inpatient census has increased from the mid 30s to the 60s. This is in addition to managing a very full Adult Hospital and Emergency Department each day.
- The number of COVID positive test results among employees has increased.
While there is progress in developing COVID-19 vaccines and monoclonal antibody therapies, it will be many months before herd immunity can take effect. In the interim, the fundamentals to protect each other and our patients remain the same: mask wearing; maintaining appropriate physical distancing, including avoiding large crowds; and vigorous hand hygiene.
If there are any lingering doubts about the effectiveness of masking, I want to share the results of an analysis done by our own Vanderbilt Health Policy experts that found deaths per 100,000 population in the 67 Tennessee counties that never required masks rose to a rate more than double that of the 28 counties that began requiring masks at some point between July 1 and the first week of August.
We continue to be well equipped to handle this pandemic. Our biggest challenge now is having staff stay well so that we can fulfill our mission of offering exceptional personalized care to the patients who need us. To that end, if you are called upon, I want to thank you in advance for your willingness to work extra or in alternative roles to help meet this extraordinary circumstance. Many of you are doing this already.
Please know this crisis will not last forever and that you are contributing to the healing of many. The single most important factor to our success over the coming months is all of us. More than ever, our ability to meet the challenges ahead relies on the ability to staff our hospitals, clinics and support areas.
As Dr. Balser remarked earlier this year, we are all essential. Therefore, I need to ask you again to practice appropriate self-care by paying attention to yourself and your family.
Together, we will continue to meet the challenges ahead.
C. Wright Pinson, MBA, MD
Deputy Chief Executive Officer
Chief Health System Officer