CORONAVIRUS

UI epidemiologist 'more optimistic' about COVID-19 but says Iowans should 'hunker down a little bit longer'

A portable road sign reads #x201c;Thank you healthcare workers#x201d; along Hawkins Drive at the University of Iowa Hosp
A portable road sign reads “Thank you healthcare workers” along Hawkins Drive at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Monday, April 13, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — After COVID-19 admissions at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics soared into the 90s earlier this month, the number of patients in the facility dropped into the 60s this week, giving UI epidemiologist Jorge Salinas reason to remain hopeful — but also vigilant — about the prolonged pandemic.

“Lately, I am more optimistic,” Salinas said Tuesday during a question-and-answer session on Facebook Live. He noted that at the same time, an advisory committee for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was discussing which groups of people should get the first doses of a vaccine. “A vaccine that is 95 percent effective in preventing infection,” he noted

“It also appears to decrease the severity of illness,” Salinas said. “So there is truly light at the end of the tunnel.”

Salinas, however, also pointed out the recent surge in infections and the need to “hunker down a little bit longer to prevent as many hospitalizations and deaths as possible.”

In November, UIHC — as well as the state and nation — saw “the most cases diagnosed, the most hospitalizations, the most patients in (intensive care), the most deaths compared to other months in the pandemic.”

“The good news is that our number of hospitalizations has decreased slightly over the last week,” he said.

As to whether Iowa and UIHC will see another spike following the Thanksgiving holiday, Salinas said that remains to be seen. If it’s going to happen, it would be in the next week or two.

“What’s clear is that other states that had a lower incidence will have a growing incidence as a result of the holiday,” Salinas said. “If somebody travels from a state of high incidence to a state of low incidence, cases will follow that gradient.”

Because the Midwest already had high COVID-19 incidence, “The holidays may not lead necessarily to a very high second spike.”

“That’s my hope,” he said. “But that’s completely contingent on the public health measure implementation that Iowans do.”

And Salinas urged Iowans to adhere to all the mitigation measures — not just some of them: Wear masks. Socially distance. Wash hands. Monitor symptoms and stay home if sick.

With another holiday coming up, Salinas urged diligence in squashing large group gatherings in exchange for resuming celebrations next summer and after.

“It’s very likely the Fourth of July will be nice. Next Halloween will be nice. Thanksgiving next year, we’ll probably be back to normal if we get all these vaccines and therapeutics,” he said. “So yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

As for how to stay safe as vaccines are distributed over the months to come, Salinas noted that protection is not established until a week after taking the second dose — referring to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines under consideration for emergency use.

“We think it’s going to be useful for everybody to continue wearing masks for the time being,” he said. “But if everybody in your family, and everybody in your household, and members of another household have received the vaccine … after a week of the second dose, your immunity that the vaccine provides you is 95 percent.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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