Dec. 9, 2020
Dear Members of the Baylor College of Medicine Community,
Shortly before I sat down to write this message, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan quietly stepped out of anonymity and into the history books as the first person in the world to be vaccinated against COVID-19. One down, a few billion to go.
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. On our journey to world-wide herd immunity, we just took a small but critical step. Ms. Keenan performed a very small act of personal heroism, in a pandemic that has been marked by countless acts, large and small. Today, I want to highlight some of our less visible heroes at Baylor.
First, a word about vaccines and our current numbers. Just a word about vaccines, because there will be many words to come. There is still much we do not know, and the situation is constantly evolving. As we have information, we will push it out to our community. It is my goal that you know what I know. As vaccines become available to Baylor and our affiliates, we will get everyone vaccinated as rapidly as possible.
For now, I would offer a few general comments. First, if you are presented with an opportunity to be vaccinated, take it. Many in the Baylor community, especially those involved in direct patient care, will be vaccinated by our affiliate institutions. Second, initial supplies of vaccine will be limited and prioritized in line with CDC and State of Texas guidelines. Be patient.
It appears likely the initial trickle of vaccine supply will grow to a steady stream– I am confident we will have ample supply for our needs in the next couple of months. Finally, and critically, this is not over. I have to confess it gives me an incredible sense of relief that we are finally doing something to end this collective nightmare. For the first time, we are not just bailing out our sinking boat, we are repairing the hole in the hull. But until we get a substantial portion of the population vaccinated – probably sometime in the summer – we cannot relax our discipline around masking, distancing and safe viral control behaviors.
Our numbers bear out the need for continued vigilance. Last week, on an average daily basis, Harris County and surrounding communities added new COVID-19 cases at a rate of 2,373 per day, an increase of over 350% in eight short weeks, and a rate that exceeds our previous July peak. During that same eight-week time period, new admissions to hospitals grew to 174 per day, an increase of “only” 69%. The relative slow growth in hospitalizations compared to community cases is a bit of positive news, but the flood waters are still steadily rising at this point. Our hospitals and providers – our front-line heroes – are once again feeling the strain.
I wrote about those front-line heroes – our physicians, nurses, trainees and other providers – almost four months ago. They described to me their personal anxieties and sacrifices, but also their sense of pride and joy of teamwork in battling the pandemic.
As I said, today I want to try and recognize another group of essential personnel – those at Baylor who keep us safe. Those who keep us fed and keep our work environment clean. Those who keep our buildings in good repair.
These are people who cannot do their job on Zoom; people who quietly and without fanfare show up day-in and day-out to do what needs to be done. In preparation for this piece, I spoke with about a half-dozen of these folks – people working in security, housekeeping, facility maintenance, the front desk and the cafeteria. Here is what they told me – their words, not mine:
How has the virus impacted your life? What are your greatest fears or anxieties?
- I worry mainly about my family. I have an elderly parent I want to protect.
- I no longer take my health for granted. I am not as young as I used to be, and I worry about my outcome if I did catch it.
- One of my cousins died – he didn’t take it seriously. I have other family members with medical problems. I need to protect them, and I need to protect my grandchildren.
- I take this very seriously. I am much more obsessed with cleanliness at home. I wear a mask, and I keep my distance. No one visits our home anymore – FaceTime and telephone visits only.
- I know many people who have lost their jobs and are suffering economically.
- I feel isolated. I am used to visiting my family regularly, and I like to go out dancing a few times a week. Now I am always at work or at home.
Why do you continue to come to work?
- It’s my job. It’s what I do. I get up every morning and go to work.
- There are still things that need to get done. There are so many people here who are doing so much to fight this virus. They have needs, and it makes me proud to help.
- People at Baylor are so smart and so educated. I learn something every day when I come to work.
- I need to eat…I have to work!
- I feel safer at work than anywhere.
What gives you hope?
- The vaccine!
- We are doing a good job keeping people safe. I work screening people as they come into the building. A few people still give us grief. Please tell them we are just doing our job.
- I know by protecting myself I am protecting other people.
- My faith. God will keep us safe.
- It has been an incredible time. I have seen great teamwork and great planning turn into action in record time.
- Everyone is working towards a cure; I am proud of the work Baylor is doing on behalf of our community.
After spending time discussing experiences with front-line healthcare workers and representatives of our support staff, there are certainly big differences. However, I am struck more by the commonalities. Concern for family. Hope for the future. Pride in the role Baylor College of Medicine – more specifically, the people of Baylor – has played in this struggle.
I will close by asking a favor. When you are at work today – at your desk, in your lab or classroom, walking the hallways – stop for a moment. Look up. There is someone you have seen day-in and day-out. Someone keeping you safe, keeping you fed, keeping you comfortable so you can do your work.
Say thank you.
James T. McDeavitt, M.D.
Senior Vice President and Dean of Clinical Affairs
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