The University of Virginia Medical Center is seeing about three times as many COVID-19 patients in the hospital as it was a month ago.
During a virtual press conference Friday, Dr. Reid Adams, UVa Health’s chief medical officer, said 31 patients currently are hospitalized due to COVID, and almost half of those are in the intensive care unit.
“We get transfers of patients that can’t be taken care of elsewhere that need really advanced therapies to support them through their COVID illness, so that’s why our ICU population continues to remain pretty steady,” he said.
Adams said the Medical Center has close to 100 ICU beds and that it does have the capacity to take care of patients.
“As we did during the really big peaks, we have to adjust our staffing to take care of those folks, and/or we have to delay elective care, and fortunately … that’s been limited this go around,” he said, compared with COVID surges last fall.
The emergency department at UVa is very busy, Adams said, as are other emergency facilities in the area.
“I don’t think it’s just COVID — it’s just a lot of people needing urgent and emergent care.” he said. “So that part is not really overwhelmed by COVID, that’s just regular care that people need that they would access the emergency room for.”
Dr. Costi Sifri, UVa Health’s director of hospital epidemiology, said that when patients are admitted to the ICU with COVID, they have long lengths of stay and the ICU’s resources do become constrained.
“We’re seeing that become a problem in parts of the United States and in the Southeast,” he said. “This is really one of those critical reasons why we need to get people vaccinated, because we don’t have an unlimited number of ICU beds and ICU nurses and physicians.”
Adams pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance released this week that recommends pregnant women get vaccinated for COVID.
“A reasonable number of those that are testing positive and in the hospital are women that are pregnant and or delivering, and so I think with the new CDC recommendations … that’s a population that continues to be at risk, and with the new guidelines, that may help provide clarity for individuals to consider getting vaccinated where they’re not,” he said.
Sifri said it’s been demonstrated consistently that the vaccine is safe and effective for women who are pregnant. He said it allows them to develop antibodies to COVID that benefit not only the woman but their child after delivery through breastfeeding and it helps keep them out of the ICU due to COVID.
As of Friday, about 97% of people hospitalized due to COVID in Virginia were not vaccinated, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
About 57% of vaccine-eligible residents in the Blue Ridge Health District — which covers Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson counties and the city of Charlottesville — are fully vaccinated.
Adams said that 88% of Medical Center employees are fully vaccinated, which includes people who directly and indirectly care for patients. Approximately 86% of Health System employees are vaccinated, which includes library employees, faculty in the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and others who may not do patient-related care.
Those numbers do not include contract employees.
“Contract employees are new employees, so they come in and out of the organization, and as you’ll recall, our vaccination policy is that all new employees are required to have vaccination or apply for an exception,” Adams said.
All employees hired by the Health System after June 25 must provide proof of vaccination to be employed. Existing employees who are not vaccinated are required to undergo weekly COVID tests, which started earlier this month.
During Friday’s call, the Health System also announced that it is making COVID-19 vaccines available at its outpatient pharmacies.
Appointments are available between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays at the UVa Outpatient Pharmacy at the Education Resource Center, located on the first floor of the facility at 1240 Lee St. in Charlottesville across from the main entrance to the UVa Medical Center.
“What our plan is, is in the next few weeks to be able to offer walk-ins appointments for much [more] extended hours,” said Justin Vesser, a UVa Health pharmacy supervisor. “This pharmacy at 1240 Lee Street is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to the public for their pharmacy needs, and we want to be able to extend the availability for the COVID vaccines into … a significant percentage [of those hours] so that we have more ways for people to find the vaccine when they want one with minimal barriers.”
To make an appointment, call (434) 297-4829. Free parking, with validation from the pharmacy, is available in the Lee Street Garage, which is next door to the pharmacy. The Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available.
Vesser said UVa Health plans to offer COVID-19 vaccinations soon at its other outpatient pharmacies, including at Zion Crossroads, Pantops and Fishersville.
“We’re still trying to get all the details ironed out on which ones of all those will offer the vaccine but we’re starting with the largest outpatient pharmacy, which is our community pharmacy, which is located right here .. across the street from the main hospital,” he said.
Vaccinations are also still available at UVa Health’s COVID Clinic on the first floor of the West Complex, located at 1300 Jefferson Park Ave. Appointments are required and can be made by calling (434) 297-4829 or by visiting UVa Health’s online vaccine appointment site, tinyurl.com/2bv8av3r.