Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series
With the calendar now changed to 2021, good news may be on the horizon regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just not immediately, according to Dr. Frank Gaudio.
“Cases and deaths will continue to rise until we have some aspect of herd immunity, which means 70 to 80% of the population needs to be immunized,” he said. “That’s when we’ll truly get a respite from this problem.”
Gaudio, a physician with more than 45 years of experience in emergency medical services, shared his expertise as part of the municipality of Bethel Park’s Live Well speaker series.
Of course, the path toward immunizations for hundreds of millions of Americans has started with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authorizing two COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use. Gaudio, an Upper St. Clair resident, said two more are in the final phase of clinical trials.
Being administered now are the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, both of which require two doses for peak efficacy. Each contains genetic material intended to trigger an immune response against the coronavirus.
Still in the trial phase in the United States is a vaccine developed by Oxford University and multinational biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Already approved for emergency use in several countries, the vaccine is expected to be available to Americans in the spring.
Also undergoing trials is a single-dose vaccine under development by The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
“They likely will all work about the same. They’re all very effective, and whichever one you can get first is likely the way to go,” Gaudio said. “Concerns will be: Is there enough to go around? How are we going to get the distribution done? And will people actually want to take the vaccine?”
While officials on a multitude of levels attempt to address such considerations, healthcare professionals continue to be tasked with the responsibility of treating COVID-19 patients, often under less than optimal conditions.
In that context, Gaudio reiterated the need for everyone to take precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks, cleaning frequently and practicing exemplary personal hygiene.
“Why do we do this? Because if we don’t, we get a spike. And when we get a spike, we run out of beds. We run out of ICU beds,” he said about hospital intensive care units. “We run out of ventilators.”
Breathing difficulties often accompany cases of COVID-19.
“Most of the patients, once they start to become very ill, have problems oxygenating. In other words, they don’t get enough oxygen into their body through their lungs that they need to sustain their vital organs,” Gaudio said. “And when that happens, you feel short of breath. You feel fatigued. You run into problems with your heart and kidneys.”
A relatively simple remedy is for patients to be placed on their stomachs, rather than have them lie on their backs, which “seems to improve the oxygenation dramatically,” he said.
Among the treatments granted emergency use authorizing by the FDA is administering the antiviral medication remdesivir.
“They did not find that it caused fewer people to die when they got the medication. What it did do is it shortened the hospital stay, and the less time you spend in the hospital, the better it is for most patients,” Gaudio said.
“Another approved treatment is a very old medication called dexamethasone, which is a steroid,” he continued. “When that medicine was used in patients who were sicker, it did decrease mortality.”
Other medications also are available to treat various symptoms, but their effectiveness varies depending on the conditions of individual patients.
“These really need to be done according to some kind of protocol. Whenever we find it just being used at a whim, it doesn’t do any justice to the patient. It doesn’t do any justice to figuring out whether or not this is something we should do,” Gaudio said.
“All of this really needs to be data-driven. I understand and I sympathize with people who are very ill, and they’re looking for whatever might work. And they might have the opinion of, I don’t care if it doesn’t work,” he said. “But really, some of these will actually have more of a negative effect.”
Emergency departments – such as Washington Health System’s, where Gaudio works – may opt not to admit people who display relatively mild COVID-19 symptoms and have conditions at home that allow them to quarantine at a safe distance from others for a sufficient period.
Gaudio provided a general time frame: “If you’re in isolation and you’re COVID-positive, 10 days after you’ve had your first positive test and you’ve got no subsequent symptoms, you’re safe to go.”
He said, though, guidelines related to the coronavirus are subject to frequent change, as more is learned about the disease and the battle against it, at the heart of which are actions by individuals.
“When we social distance, when we wear masks, we flatten this curve. Then we have enough beds in the hospital to take care of people,” he said. “And we have enough time to develop a safe, effective vaccine or two or three or four.”
The South West Communities Chamber of Commerce said thanks to a tremendous community effort, its Free Little Pantry has helped more people in need this holiday season.
Dozens of bags of food and hundreds of dollars came pouring in from around the region to help the chamber supply food to those in need after executive director Mandi Pryor made a call for donations on social media.
The Little Free Pantry has been serving those in the South Hills since December 2018. After a strong storm destroyed the original pantry built by executive director, Pancho Timmons, of Pennsylvania Youth Initiative, a new pantry was put in place in July 2020.
“It was heartbreaking to see that our pantry was completely empty three weeks ago, now thanks to remarkable community effort, we have enough food and donations to keep those in need hungry well into the new year,” Pryor said. “We are so proud of everyone who put in so much effort to help in a time when it is so crucially needed.”
The Little Free Pantry serves all of the South Hills and is open throughout the year. Nonperishable food items and monetary donations can be dropped off at the South West Communities Chamber building, 990 Washington Pike, Collier Township. Excess food will be donated to Washington City Mission and Washington County Food Bank.
The South West Communities Chamber of Commerce is a pro-business membership organization serving business and local communities for almost 100 years. Member municipalities include Bridgeville, Carnegie, Heidelberg, Collier, Scott, South Fayette and Upper St. Clair, as well as surrounding regions in and around the South Hills.
For one of its first official acts of 2021, Mt. Lebanon Commission unanimously approved the establishment of an Ad Hoc Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
During their annual organization meeting Monday, commissioners also appointed more than two dozen residents to four working groups within the committee, addressing community awareness, diversity in boards and hiring, police engagement, and event planning and recognition.
The meeting effectively began with the election of Mindy Ranney as commission president and Andrew Flynn, vice president. Both are beginning their second year on the commission, as is Leeann Foster, who helped formulate the ad hoc committee.
“I would like to thank the commission, every member for their wholehearted support of this resolution,” she said prior to the vote for approval. “I’d like to especially thank Commissioner Ranney for co-leading this effort with me, and also Commissioner Flynn for playing a key role in selection of the members.”
Foster is serving as commission liaison, and Robyn Vittek, Mt. Lebanon Public Library director, as staff liaison.
The purpose of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is to study relevant issues and make recommendations to the commission. The committee is part of the Mt. Lebanon Community Relations Board, which has the goal of creating a welcoming environment and promoting a high quality of life for all residents.
Ranney and Foster first presented the concept for the committee during a commission discussion session in September, after they worked on drafting guidelines following the national unrest associated with the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
Ranney succeeds Craig Grella as commission president, and his colleagues presented him with a ceremonial gavel as a gift for his service.
“You provided strong leadership during this very tumultuous year, and we are grateful for your contribution to make Mt. Lebanon a wonderful place to live and to work,” Ranney told Grella. “We look forward to continue working with you and benefiting from your very hard work on the commission.”
Also during the organization meeting, commissioners were appointed as representatives to intergovernmental organizations and as liaisons to municipal boards and authorities: