Hope is Renewable

I have good news to share – we are now coming out of the second surge of the COVID-19 crisis and going into the second phase of the state’s vaccination program. While the last few months have been our most challenging yet, these two facts indicate the beginning of the end to this pandemic. Here are a few updates on where we stand with our COVID-19 response efforts and vaccination program.

COVID-19 Activity and Response: We are seeing a decline in the number of hospitalizations for our region – 189 for Central Massachusetts as of today. This is great news that we’re coming out of the second surge, which reached its peak of 386 hospitalizations for our region in early January. Because of the decline, we are transitioning out of some of our surge spaces at the Medical Center.

Field Hospital at DCU Center: Another good indicator of the positive trend we are seeing is the decline of patients cared for at the field hospital, which as you remember is a state-wide resource. I’m so proud of the incredible team at the DCU for their dedication to this patient population, making sure they’re cared for in a patient-friendly setting. They have cared for 577 patients during the nine weeks of operations during this second surge, taking admissions from 28 locations across the state. Combined with the first wave, the DCU teams have cared for more than 850 patients, making it one of the busiest field hospitals in the country! Our health systems throughout the state would not have been able to manage these patients otherwise.

Community Testing and Education: We’re also seeing a decline in the positivity rate for testing, which is an indicator for potential future hospitalizations. Our support of the state’s Stop the Spread testing initiative shows a positivity rate of 9.8% in Worcester, down from the peak of 13.4%. In Marlborough, the rate is 7.6%, down from the peak of 11.9% in early January. The Care Mobile and the testing teams in Worcester have partnered with the Latino Education Institute Outreach team to continue to distribute the COVID-19 education kits in six languages. They’ve given a total of 43,000 kits since April!

Vaccines Are in High Demand!

Patient Vaccination Program: Two weeks ago, we started vaccinating our Cancer Center patients as they came in for their infusion appointments. Last week, we started vaccinating our patients who are 75+ years old at our community hospital locations, and today we start vaccinating patients in that age group at the Mercantile Center in Worcester, in accordance with the state’s phased approach. Here are a few important points about the program:

  • Currently, we are inviting UMass Memorial patients 75+ years old by phone or myChart to schedule appointments.
  • Because of the limited vaccine available, we can’t invite all eligible patients at the same time, so they may not receive an appointment invitation right away.
  • We are offering the vaccine at dedicated vaccination sites, not in our clinic offices. UMass Memorial patients can visit our website at umassmemorial.org/coronavirus for an update on locations.
  • We encourage our patients to get the vaccine as soon as possible once they are eligible – whether that is at a UMass Memorial location or through city and town clinics, local pharmacies or state vaccination sites.

The good news is that the state has just announced a new “supersite” to be located at Worcester State University, starting February 16, which will help get the vaccine out to more people more quickly. I recommend visiting the state’s vaccination website for more information about this and other sites throughout the region.

Community Vaccinations: Part of our philosophy for our vaccination program is to ensure access to the vaccine for ALL who are eligible. Just as we did with our community testing efforts, we’re making the extra effort to go to neighborhoods that are disproportionately impacted by racism and health inequities to offer the vaccine to those who are eligible but may not have the means (because of lack of transportation or English is their second language so may not be aware) to come to one of our locations or to a supersite. Last Friday, we started piloting this effort with our Care Mobile team to see if using this same method as our mobile testing will help bring equitable access to vaccinations.

Hope is Renewable: I know the word “hope” has been used a lot to describe the arrival of the vaccine and with it, holding the promise for an end to this pandemic. Over the last few weeks, that “hope” has wavered with the slow, disjointed vaccine rollout we’re seeing across the country and in our own state. But I believe hope is renewable. I’ve seen firsthand in these last few weeks how our Vaccination Steering Committee has collaborated with operations at each site to problem solve quickly so that we have a robust vaccination program – as long as we have vaccine supply – to offer this hope to those in our region who want it and need it. Thank you to all of our caregivers for all that you’re doing to keep this hope alive for all of us.



Follow me on Twitter @EricDicksonCEO

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