Elective procedures and the holiday season: Advocate Aurora experts address latest COVID-19 surge

Three clinical leaders from Milwaukee- and Downers Grove, Ill.-based Advocate Aurora Health weighed in on the latest surge of COVID-19 battering Illinois and Wisconsin during a Nov. 16 news briefing. 

Robert Citronberg, MD, executive medical director of infectious disease and prevention; Jeff Bahr, MD, chief medical group officer; and Mary Beth Kingston, PhD, RN, chief nursing officer, participated in the call. 

Here are six key takeaways on the state of COVID-19 across Illinois and Wisconsin: 

1. The current surge of COVID-19 presents different challenges for Advocate Aurora than earlier stages of the pandemic. This time around they have a "robust supply" of personal protective equipment for all staff members, and have better guidance on therapeutics. Dr. Citronberg said they're better able to treat patients and keep them off ventilators due to a better understanding of steroids and access to treatments like remdesivir and convalescent plasma. Now, the main challenge is limited staffing. 

2. Some Advocate Aurora medical centers have already reduced elective procedures by 50 percent, with more looking into that option later this week. Dr. Bahr reiterated that urgent surgery and cancer care will not be delayed, and said they are using an internal tool to weigh which surgeries to prioritize. 

3. The health system is experiencing its highest levels of COVID-19 inpatients since the beginning of the pandemic, with more than 1,100 hospitalized across Illinois and Wisconsin. It's working to mitigate the pressure placed on inpatient care teams by redeploying staff where they're most needed, and has requested travel nurses who will start later this month and in early December. 

4. Moderna's vaccine logistics don't present as many challenges as Pfizer's, as it can be stored at standard freezer temperatures, potentially setting it up as the more favorable option for healthcare systems, Dr. Citronberg said. 

5. Dr. Kingston said Advocate Aurora's psychiatric services have been overwhelmed with both children and adults experiencing depression and anxiety. Advocate Aurora has extended its virtual offerings to reach those patient populations, manage existing diagnoses and issue prescriptions. 

6. "There's a very bright light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel," Dr. Citronberg said. "Hold it together through the winter with the promise that the spring is going to be much brighter." All three clinical leaders said people should carefully approach the holiday season and save the large gatherings for next year. 

More articles on public health:
US records 1M cases in week; Moderna's vaccine 94.5% effective — 6 COVID-19 updates
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