UPMC finds social distancing efforts to be ‘paying off’

While lauding the progress being made by his fellow doctors in the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, Dr. Donald Yealy, chair at the Department of Emergency Medicine at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, focused on the current pandemic that is on everyone’s mind. Yealy appeared with his colleagues at an online press conference Thursday in Pittsburgh.

He stressed that the data that has been collected from community surveillance testing does not point to a widespread outbreak in the area covered by the UPMC hospital system as of yet.

Referring to the projection at the federal level that a surge in cases of the disease could peak within the next two to three weeks, Yealy said, “I have no reason not to agree with some estimates that say the surge may be at its peak within two to three weeks. The truth is we don’t know. There are other estimates that would suggest that it could last even long than that.”

“The data continue to reassure us that COVID-19 is not as intensely active or widespread in the communities we serve as it is in other parts of the country,” he said. “The regional efforts at social distancing appear to be paying off and we appreciate what everyone is doing to help flatten the curve.”

Flattening the curve helps to optimize care in health care facilities and allows research to develop therapeutics and vaccines, he said.

In giving an update on current testing, Yealy said that across the UPMC system, over 4,100 tests have been performed with 386 testing positive.

‘That’s a positivity rate of about 9 percent,” Yealy said.

“Over the past 10 days, in addition to previous sample collection sites and testing facilities that existed, UPMC set up specimen collection centers in Harrisburg, in Williamsport, Erie, Altoona, Somerset and Jamestown, New York,” he added.

Yealy noted 171 samples have been collected at the Williamsport site thus far.

He admitted that not all the results are back on tests that have been done recently, but that the positivity rate that the hospital system has seen is ranging from 3 percent in some areas, but that the consistent rate is between 8 and 12 percent.

“We currently have 67 inpatients that are positive for COVID-19 across the entire UPMC system. Most do not need intensive care or a ventilator,” he said.

When asked why the numbers testing positive at UPMC are so low, Yealy said he didn’t know what was considered a low percentage.

“We’re still learning a lot about how the virus enters a community. And it also doesn’t enter every community in the same fashion,” he said.

Yealy cited differences in cases across the world and across the state.

“The amount of positive cases that are either symptomatic or admitted to the hospital varies dramatically across the region,” he said.

In terms of who should seek testing, Yealy stressed that the protocol now calls for people who have symptoms and especially those who need hospitalization to be tested,

“One group of people that we simply don’t have the capacity today to test, are people who have no symptoms but maybe have a concern about having acquired the infection,” he said.

“My advice would be seek testing if you have the symptoms–cough fever and difficulty breathing,” Yealy said. He also noted that the lack of the senses of taste and smell are possible symptoms of COVID-19.