As many have seen in the news recently, the number of COVID-19 cases in the state and across the nation are rising at an alarming rate due to the Delta variant. I want to give our community an update on what we are experiencing at UMass Memorial Health and the plans we are putting in place to respond to this increase.
COVID-19 Cases Increase
In Central Massachusetts, we were up to 41 COVID-19 inpatients as of last week, most of which were being cared for at one of our system hospitals. While we are experiencing a leveling-off from last week, we are keeping a watchful eye on the situation with positive testing rates also increasing, which will likely increase the number of hospitalizations across the state. The inpatients we are seeing have been primarily unvaccinated individuals. We are actively managing the increase in patients, particularly at the Medical Center, where we have transitioned one of our units on the Memorial Campus to an all-COVID-19 unit. While we are preparing for what could be another surge, I remain hopeful that it won’t be nearly as challenging as the surges we experienced last winter and last spring.
Mandating COVID-19 Vaccinations
The best defense against a third possible COVID-19 surge is to get vaccinated. As Chair of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association’s Board of Trustees, I led the approval of a statewide consensus policy to endorse mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all Massachusetts hospital and health system employees. Each hospital and health system will establish its own policy and timeline for mandatory vaccinations.
For UMass Memorial Health, we will follow this policy as well and are actively working on plans to roll out a mandatory vaccination program in the fall. The expectation is that all executives and department chairs will have received the vaccine by October 1, and all other caregivers who have not yet been vaccinated will receive their first dose by November 1. This program will include guidelines for exemptions for medical and religious reasons.
I recognize that for those who have not been vaccinated, this decision to mandate the vaccine raises concerns. We’ve thoroughly reviewed the science behind the vaccines, are following guidance from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and feel this is the best way to keep our caregivers and patients safe from this horrible disease that keeps getting stronger. We have the same mission as we did last spring – to save as many lives as possible during this pandemic – and the vaccine is the best way to do that.
I know the spike in COVID-19 cases is disappointing news given everything we’ve been through together the past 18 months. It feels like we’re going backward instead of forward. But there is one thing that I know for sure: We will get through this together. Stay strong and stay safe.