UPMC says key to reopening our region is to protect the most vulnerable

PITTSBURGH — The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said the key to opening our region up is protecting the most vulnerable and allowing those who are healthy to get back to business.

"We can safely reopen, not only our hospital care, but also our region and society, by protecting our most vulnerable, particularly the elderly, and doing things safely and smartly,” said Dr. Donald Yealy, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC.

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Yealy points to the example of the cruise ship off of Japan’s coast that had one of the first outbreaks in which several elderly passengers died. In comparison, one crew member died in the outbreak on the the USS Roosevelt, where several sailors contracted the virus.

UPMC said the demographics of those impacted in western Pennsylvania mirror the cruise ship example, with nearly 80% of fatalities at nursing homes.

"If we focus on the elderly, we will bring down the death rate. We can get that below 1% easily,” Yealy said.

They point to success at UPMC’sassisted living facilities, where they say no resident has tested positive.

"The precautions we put in place early on and maintain throughout are working,” said Dr. David Nace, chief medical officer of UPMC Senior Communities.

They say that has included strict use of personal protective equipment, enhanced screening and diligent monitoring of symptoms.

"If any resident is found with a fever for any reason, they're immediately put into droplet and contact precautions until we're sure they don't have COVID-19,” Nace said.

As for how UPMC has managed to have no COVID-19 cases while other senior living centers have suffered major

outbreaks, they point to controllable factors of infection control.

"From our experience with other facilities beyond UPMC is that sometimes the difference is really coming down to how well we adhere to those basic principles,” Nace said.

Yealy said it’s possible to protect the vulnerable and open our community, and he urged Pittsburghers to visit their mothers this weekend.

"Having a visit with your mom in a small group with appropriate distancing and all the usual precautions (makes) a lot of sense,” Yealy said.

Yealy said he does not think visiting your mom on Mother’s Day will violate the governor’s stay-at-home order if you safely follow guidelines.