The COVID-19 pandemic has been a long journey to navigate this year, and a common theme throughout has been the ever-changing news and procedures concerning the virus.
Throughout the month of December there was a huge influx of COVID updates that will change the trajectory of the virus as we go into 2021. While it may seem daunting to comb through local and national news, which may feel overgeneralized, contradicting, or swayed, learning about the current events surrounding this major issue in the global and local community is critical.
On Wednesday, Dec. 2, 467 new cases were reported, translating to 90 patients hospitalized and eventually 25 deaths, some of the highest numbers for a single day all year (at the time this was written). On Sunday, Dec. 13, the Hamilton County Health Department (HCHD) reported 215 new positive cases to add to the total of 22,633 positive cases in the county.
In an attempt to adjust to the community’s rising cases, businesses, schools, and hospitals changed procedures. The weekend of Dec. 5-6, Hamilton County schools went back to “Stage 2” (half in-person school, half distance learning), only to transition again to “Stage 1” (full distance learning) to finish out the semester. Hospitals all over Chattanooga are maxed out their Intensive Care Unit space; ICU’s in Cleveland reached 99 percent capacity. In order to quell virus spread, Erlanger Hospital barred all visitor entry for patients with very few exceptions.
In the midst of increasingly dangerous rise in cases, however, the race to distribute an effective COVID-19 vaccine evolved significantly. Drug companies Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna have been the front-runners of vaccine production. These companies have used new technology to create the vaccine and double-blinded placebo-controlled testing to verify the efficacy of the vaccine. The vaccine involves two injection-administered doses, taken three weeks apart. While some feel skeptical of the new technologies used for production, the tests have verified the vaccine to be 90-95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 spread after both doses have been taken. (This number is huge. To give perspective, the flu vaccine ranges from 40-80 percent effective and has changed flu rates exponentially since first being administered).
On Dec. 8, 90-year-old UK resident Margaret Keenan became the first person to be given the COVID-19 vaccine. Distribution in the UK has continued since then.
On Dec. 13, Pfizer overcame its final hurdle by approving the vaccine for all people aged 16 and up; previously, the vaccine had only been cleared for ages 18 and up. After that report was finalized, the CDC officially administered use of the vaccine in the U.S. Between December 14-16, the first round of vaccinations is set to be distributed to all 50 U.S. states in hospitals at 636 locations. The order of distribution will be set to fit demand. Medical professionals, along with residents in extended care facilities, will be the first to receive the vaccine, followed by immunocompromised patients, the elderly, and ending with young, healthy people.
Although surrounded by closing and quarantined schools, Baylor has continued to facilitate surveillance testing on campus with increasing frequency matching increasing positive case rates. Baylor, through its efforts, has continued to keep its number low: no greater than 2-2.5 percent of campus population has tested positive.
Please remember to thank your Health Center nurses and all administration for their work to keep us on campus for this semester and to continue to follow COVID-19 procedures in order to make the return to campus in January as safe as possible.