Guest column: An ounce of prevention: the 4th surge

Published 8:45 pm Friday, August 20, 2021

Guest column by Robert Albright Jr. and Sumit Bhagra

Just this past July Fourth holiday, we had all hoped that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was behind us. Now watching COVID-19 once again spread rapidly, it is clear that we are headed for a fourth surge of COVID-19 in our area.

Robert Albright Jr.

We are all tired, and as much as we all wish it were so, this pandemic is not over. We are all watching in horror as COVID-19 overwhelms hospitals and health care systems in Florida, Texas, Mississippi and other states with low COVID-19 vaccination rates. Pediatric ICUs are filled with young children — some on ventilators — as the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus causes heartbreak, suffering and death.

The most tragic part of the situation is that most of these hospitalizations and nearly all the deaths are preventable if eligible people get vaccinated for COVID-19. Recent data show unvaccinated people account for 99.5% of U.S. hospital deaths due to COVID-19.

Over the past 18 months, we have learned effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep our families and communities safer: masking; social distancing; hand-washing; monoclonal antibody and antiviral therapies; and of course our most effective strategy, vaccination. These approaches prevent serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

Sumit Bhagra

We may think another surge won’t happen here in Minnesota. However, our modeling shows that within the next month, our ICU and hospital beds will likely fill with COVID-19 patients, straining our ability to care for them and still leave room for other patients who need procedures and emergency hospitalizations for conditions like heart attacks or strokes.

Of more concern, recent experience in states where the surge is peaking highlights that children and young adults make up a much higher number of seriously ill patients infected by this virus. If you have been putting off getting vaccinated for COVID-19, now is the time to act.

Clinical trials are underway to determine the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12. But until these children can be vaccinated for COVID-19, it is up to all of us to do our part to limit the spread of this highly contagious virus and protect them.

With what we have learned to date, we are certain that vaccination for COVID-19, masking, social distancing and other measures we have taken inside our medical facilities make it possible to continue to provide safe medical care. We want to strongly emphasize these same actions taken in the community, particularly getting vaccinated for COVID-19, will help ensure that businesses can stay open, schools can conduct in-person learning safely and normal life can resume.

Every Mayo Clinic facility is ready to meet the needs of our patients and the community. We will continue to provide the most compassionate, high-quality care to our loved ones, community members and visitors. We will partner with community resources and other care networks, and use the incredible innovative power of Mayo Clinic to support you.

Here’s how you can do your part:

• Unless advised otherwise by your health care provider, get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible. Also, vaccinate your eligible children for COVID-19 before they return to school.

• No matter your vaccination status, wear a mask when indoors and away from home. COVID-19 transmission rates are high across our entire area. Practice social distancing whenever possible.

• If you are not vaccinated for COVID-19 and are exposed to the virus, isolate immediately and get tested. No matter your vaccination status, if you have symptoms, it is critical to isolate and get tested.

• When you need care for a non-COVID illness or injury that is not an emergency, take advantage of one of the many options to get the care you need. That includes seeing your primary care provider, making an appointment at the Same-Day Clinic, using Express Care (in-person, online or by video visit), using the “check symptoms” assessment tool online or calling the nurse line at your primary care location.

If you are called by our team after an exposure and are offered therapies such as the antiviral drug remdesivir or monoclonal antibody infusions, please strongly consider these treatments. These therapies prevent serious complications. Our teams are always ready to help if you have questions.

There is an old saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Through the course of this pandemic, we have learned what we can do to mitigate the devastating toll of this virus. Widespread vaccination is our best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. We all have a part to play in keeping our families and communities safe and healthy. You can count on us to be your partner as we face this next challenge together.

Robert Albright Jr. is the regional vice president of the southeast Minnesota region of Mayo Clinic Health System. 

Sumit Bhagra is the site lead physician of Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin.