AVON, Ohio — As time grinds on in the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact can be described as nothing less than a blunt-force blow to many aspects of our lives: loss of loved ones, huge gaps in family togetherness, closed schools, and lost jobs and businesses.
On Friday (Nov. 13), Dr. Rebecca Starck, president of Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital, took time to speak about what we have been through so far and what she sees for the future. She began with a healthcare perspective.
“People aren’t so afraid anymore of the virus,” she said. “They are afraid of other things. At the beginning, there was fear about getting sick and not knowing how bad it would be. Now we have seen the toll it takes on people from a health standpoint, but we also have seen people come through it.
“The general population is seeing that not everyone gets so sick. Attention is being shifted away from what the virus does,” she said.
But Starck noted that it is still a pandemic, and “it has ramifications that impact all else in our community.”
She mentioned delayed care first — meaning people delaying needed care for other conditions having nothing to do with the virus.
“It’s huge,” she said. “Lack of cardiac care and preventative care appointments are taking a toll.”
In addition, a question regarding non-COVID patients is out front for hospitals right now: “Do we have the space and staff to care for these patients?
“For the next seven days (starting Saturday, Nov. 14), non-essential surgeries that require an overnight stay in a hospital bed are being postponed at some of our Cleveland Clinic hospitals so that we can assure we have enough bed capacity, as well as caregivers and staff, to take care of the patients we anticipate will need our care in the next few days due to the rising numbers of COVID in our community,” Starck said.
And then there is the economic impact, she said, “the shutdowns and companies having a harder time staying afloat.”
But mental health in particular, she said, will create memories of this time that have their own special impact.
“This will define a lot of kids’ childhoods,” she said. “All around the kids, in school, in sports, the discussion is about safe practices to, hopefully, not contract the virus.”
That is top of mind for virtually everyone.
Starck’s positive outlook, though, speaks of genuine hopefulness for the future, beginning with vaccines.
“Every day, we are getting closer to a vaccine,” she said. “Some are in Phase 3 trials, some are to be rolled out soon, maybe even before the end of the year — but certainly the beginning of next year — to essential workers and the elderly in the first tier, also those with health conditions, then to the general population.
“We are seeing very, very positive results in the vaccines,” she said.
What does she see in the future as we come out of the pandemic?
“I believe there will be a day this will be behind us, and that’s what we have to keep our sights on. I am encouraged.
“Everyone is so tired of it. It’s not going to be tomorrow, so (we) must double down in our efforts. What we have seen in the last 10 days is alarming,” she said Friday.
“The rate of an increased number of cases both in and out of the hospital is far greater than what we have seen in the pandemic, with no end in sight until we get to the vaccine.
“But we can, in fact, reduce the threat by doubling down on our efforts in the things that do help contain the virus,” Starck said. “They are the simple ones, like masking and keeping 6 feet away.
“I tell my kids,” she said, “anytime you are outside your house, wear a mask; practice the same protocols that are in our businesses, schools and healthcare facilities, the same things, along with washing hands always.”
As the holidays approach, Starck said one of the problems is people are fooled by thinking, “Well, if it’s a family member it’s OK to break down the barriers. But I hear story after story of people who turn up positive (with COVID) a couple days later, and the whole crowd is then exposed, and it results, oftentimes, in several days of transmission before the people even know it.”
Limit holiday gatherings to the people who actually live in your household, she warned.
“With anyone else, you must take these measures. It’s that simple if you commit to it.
“And I do believe we can keep businesses and schools open if people will do that,” she said. “No one wants the government to shut things down. Let’s prove to the community and the government we can do this.
“The risk we run if we don’t do it, if we continue at this rate, non-COVID related healthcare will be squeezed out,” she said.
But she made a forceful point when she said, “It’s safe to come to their doctors for their conditions, for things that may be deemed non-essential.”
Starck’s hope for the holidays is to stop putting yourself at risk.
“Hopefully people can forgo family gatherings this year so we all can get through this time as healthy as possible. Anyone not currently living in your home must be considered outside your bubble and, thus, could put any of you at risk,” she said.
There is other good news, though, she said, focusing on what has been learned: “What we have learned in the last eight months has given us the opportunity to learn how to manage infected patients better and we are able to shorten the time they have to be in hospital.
“When we compare patients hospitalized for COVID vs non-COVID, they are in the hospital several days longer with COVID. It makes for a bottleneck in the hospital and then bed capacity problems.”
In the next few weeks in particular, Starck said, “Be very, very careful.”
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