The bad news, writes ID expert and AIDS researcher Rodger MacArthur, MD, is the New Year's surge in his hospital's COVID-19 cases. The good news? Vaccines.
I started the first full week of January on the infectious diseases COVID-19 service at Augusta University Medical Center. When I started, there were about 80 patients hospitalized at our medical center with COVID-19. When I left the service one week later, there were 120. Close to 25% of our total bed capacity, and 33% of our ICU capacity, were occupied by COVID-19 patients.
The COVID-19 hospital situation here in Augusta is similar to what other hospitals in Georgia are experiencing.
As during the previous surge, nurses bore the brunt of the increased workload. Nurses at our Children’s Hospital began taking care of non-COVID-19 adult patients diverted there. All our nurses began working 48-hour weeks, rather than the typical 40 hours. Hospitalists, critical care physicians, and emergency room physicians also worked extra hours. Hospital administrators worked 15-hour days. No one, not one person, complained.
That first week of January also marked the beginning of the 3rd week of vaccinating staff and professional students against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. At the time of this writing, we have given out close to 8,000 doses, including second doses to some.
The logistics of such a large undertaking are mind-boggling. And yet the efficiency of the process was truly a thing of beauty.
Appointments were scheduled electronically. Reminders were sent out. Registration occurred onsite. We had eight “lanes” (vaccine stations) operating simultaneously. Most impressive of all were the number of volunteers working: doctors, nurses, support staff, and students. I remember feeling so incredibly proud of my colleagues, co-workers, and students when I went there one week ago to get my second dose.
This week, we also were able to resume in-person activities at the medical school (Medical College of Georgia). Even better, we are beginning to see a sustained decrease in the number of new cases among our students. More than 90% of the 1st and 2nd year students have been vaccinated, as have more than 90% of physicians at our medical center and other medical centers around the state of Georgia where we send our 3rd and 4th year students.
Side effects have been fewer and milder than initially anticipated by many: mostly sore arms, with the occasional low-grade fever, headache, and fatigue. One recipient fainted seconds after receiving the vaccine. There have been no anaphylactic events, nor any other “serious” reaction of which I am aware.
Going forward, plans are in place to reach out to the clergy in our affected communities to enlist their support in encouraging their congregations to get vaccinated. And now, we are going forward with hope, not with resignation. Masks will, and should, continue to be worn for the foreseeable future, weddings and other largescale events continue to be postponed, but most of us are beginning to imagine that life as we knew it one year ago is truly just around the corner.
We will continue to work together, and together we will prevail.
Rodger D. MacArthur, MD, is Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Office of Academic Affairs Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, Augusta, Georgia. Dr MacArthur is an NIH-funded researcher and before arriving at the Medical College of Georgia, MacArthur headed the Wayne State University AIDS clinical trial program. He is widely recognized as an authority the development of antiretroviral treatment.