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Interview: Memorial Hermann The Woodlands shares COVID Update on Surge, Delta Variant, and Vaccine

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Hello Woodlands interviews Justin Kendrick, Senior Vice President and CEO of Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center and Northeast Hospital, and Dr. Daniel Kievlan, Co-Medical Director of Critical Care Services at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, who share an update on the current COVID-19 surge, how it’s affecting the hospital beds available, the impact of the Delta variant, questions and concerns about the vaccine, and ask for the community’s help.

Watch our video interview below:

The video interview was filmed and edited on August 6, 2021 by Rod Prado and Jennifer Bruse of Hello Woodlands at Canopy Cancer Survivorship Center located on the campus of Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center.

In the interview, Justin Kendrick, Senior Vice President and CEO of Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center and Northeast Hospital, discussed what is happening with the latest surge of COVID-19 versus past surges and how 25% of their licensed beds are taken by COVID-19 positive patients. Justin Kendrick shared that the main factor of this surge is that it is “becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated individuals” not only in the patient base of Memorial Hermann, but also hospitals throughout the country.

As Justin Kendrick mentioned, recently it was reported that 97% of COVID-19 positive hospitalizations are unvaccinated individuals and amongst the Memorial Hermann Health System, the number is closer to 99%. In a White House briefing on July 22, 2021, Surgeon General Murthy stated, “One fact that has been proven time and time again during this past year is that vaccines save lives.  That’s why 99.5 percent of COVID-19 deaths and 97 percent of possible hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.” Read the full briefing.

“Really throughout the country where we are seeing surges pop are in those pockets of area with a less percentage of the population vaccinated – and that’s really what we are in Houston and Montgomery County,” said Justin Kendrick. He continued by stating that based on the patients Memorial Hermann is caring for coupled with the relaxation of a lot of the safety protocols (wearing masks and social distancing) as we have gone throughout the summer, it has all come together to produce the current surge we are now seeing.

On August 6, Montgomery County Public Health confirmed that, “Only 49 percent of eligible Montgomery County residents are vaccinated.”

Currently, over 80% of Memorial Hermann Healthcare System’s workforce is vaccinated. On Monday, August 2, Memorial Hermann announced a Mandatory Vaccination Policy. “The painstakingly gathered and reported medical research data overwhelmingly demonstrates that the COVID-19 vaccines are extraordinarily safe and effective,” said Dr. David L. Callender, President and CEO of Memorial Hermann. “Other factors contributing to the timing of this decision include the significant percentage of the Greater Houston population that remains unvaccinated, the relaxation of public safety measures such as masking and social distancing, and the alarming increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations over the past several weeks. For all of these reasons, we strongly believe that the vaccines are our best and only true protection against COVID-19 going forward.” Managers are being asked to lead by example and be compliant with the new policy by Sept. 11, 2021. All other employees, in addition to the system’s affiliated providers and volunteers, must be compliant by October 9, 2021.  Read the full press release.

“We all need to come together here now to shoulder the burden equally and figure out a way together to get out of this surge here,” stated Justin Kendrick.

Dr. Daniel Kievlan, Co-Medical Director of Critical Care Services at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, shared that over the past three weeks the hospital went from having single digit number of patients with COVID-19 to doubling and doubling again multiple times and now over 397 beds, 25% are occupied by COVID-19 positive patients. This number does also reflect in Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center’s four ICUs which have 46 beds. Dr. Daniel Kievlan continued by stating that the main ICU designated for COVID-19 is currently completely full again and that the difference between this surge and previous surges is that many of these patients are much younger – being in their 30s, 40s, and 50s – and are unvaccinated.

“It breaks our heart as staff. We are committed to caring for anybody who comes in, but we don’t want to see needless suffering. And we really want to raise awareness to the community of both what we are doing, the strain that is being placed on the hospital, and ask for the community’s assistance to help us get through this so that we can still provide the care to all of our other patients that we need…to be able to avoid needless suffering and deaths and morbidity and prolonged hospital stays and potentially long term effects in some patients,” said Dr. Daniel Kievlan.

In our interview, Dr. Daniel Kievlan also addressed many questions and concerns as well as myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine relating to infertility, pregnancy, safety of the time development and approval, emergency use authorization, side effects, and others. “Great things can be done when there is a great need. These vaccines I think are representations of that – great efforts that were done safely,” said Dr. Daniel Kievlan. “When people say ‘is it safe,’ I say it is developed under an emergency, but it is developed safely and I trust that data.” Dr. Daniel Kievlan also shared that as medical professionals they need to reach out into our community, consult with experts, and be able to address individual concerns – which are sometimes very valid – and try to dig through them to provide a good answer on the patient taking the vaccine.

What is the impact locally of the Delta variant? Dr. Daniel Kievlan answered, “The Delta variant is driving the surge nationwide. We know from both local and national data that about 80% of cases are run by the Delta variant. We do know that the vaccines appear to have a slightly reduced affect against the Delta variant, but that they are doing their job in preventing moderate or severe disease. You may get a fever, you may be short of breath for a day or two – but that the vaccines are still effective against that and effective against ending up in the hospital or in my ICU – and that’s honestly the most important thing.”

“We have patients who aren’t getting heart valves replaced right now because we can’t do that with appropriate capacity on a patient basis, having patients come in from that. We don’t want those patients to suffer complications, we want to get back to normal function so all those patients can be effectively cared for – and not have risk of adverse outcomes. We are asking the community to help us out. We know you are tired, but the things we can do right now – we are asking everyone, whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated, to please mask up again right now. It may not be perfect, I know they’re not comfortable, but when you are indoors, please mask up to minimize transmission and try to drop our cases.”

Dr. Daniel Kievlan stated that in addition to wearing a mask indoors, the community can help get through the surge and flatten the curve by physically distancing (but still socially connect safely and get emotional support), getting a vaccine, and limiting the amount travel and high risk activity over the next few weeks. Those who are also vaccinated can also help by encouraging those who are unvaccinated to get a vaccine.

Dr. Daniel Kievlan does not deny that getting a vaccine is “every individual’s personal choice, but I also ask them that what you do matters to other people. Even if you’re not going to get sick and or you’re not going to get severely sick, you still end up in the hospital you’re still taking up another bed. Even if you don’t get sick or even end up in the hospital, can you pass this along to someone else who could. Protecting our most vulnerable in our community too, our children who can’t get vaccinated…people who are undergoing cancer treatment, I respect everyone’s individual right, but I also ask them to think about the health of other people. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Justin Kendrick stated, “Our staff are absolutely true heroes. It’s not just our staff, it’s everyone else. And everyone else who’s in a position where it is a privilege and honor to care for anyone who comes through our doors. But…we don’t want to have to take care of those individuals if there’s a golden ticket to keep you out of here, but again I want to pass along my personal appreciation to the entire medical staffs and all of our employee partners and everyone who all comes together to make it work…We will figure out a way to get through this together.”

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, resources, and answers to frequently asked questions, please visit https://www.memorialhermann.org/services/conditions/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine-frequently-asked-questions.

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