SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- There was a milestone Thursday at Baystate Medical Center. For the second day in a row, there are zero COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit.
We sat down with Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health, today to talk about that, where we are as we head into the fall, and his take on the CDC's request that all states be ready to distribute a vaccine by late October.
Our interview with Keroack, one-on-one on the grounds of Baystate, covered a lot, starting with that CDC mandate that states get ready to distribute a vaccine, possibly just weeks before the November election.
The CDC has told public health officials across the U.S. to prepare to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine as soon as late October.
“That's awfully fast, that would be record fast. It usually takes years and years to develop a vaccine,” Keroack said.
Sitting outside on the Baystate campus, Keroack said safety trials are critical.
“For me, there really ought to be a high bar. That is to say if you're going to give this to a perfectly healthy person, who could stay safe from COVID just by wearing a mask and washing their hands, you should be really, really sure that it's extremely safe,” Keroack added.
It’s a process he said can't be rushed and can't be political.
“The idea that we would rush it into production to fit a particular political cycle is just contrary to all good practice and I would really discourage that,” Keroack explained.
Keroack told Western Mass News that he's concerned about recent actions by the CDC, perceived by some to be political in nature.
“We've relied on the CDC as the definitive source of scientific truth and to see it politicized is very worrisome,” Keroack noted.
No stranger to infectious disease, it’s been Keroack’s specialty for 20 years.
“I was a foot soldier on the war on AIDS in the 80's and 90's, so the idea of being afraid of an unknown illness that lethal was something that I'd been through before,” Keroack said.
However, this virus, he said, is unlike any other.
“The thing that was really frightening about this disease was how fast it moved. It was completely unforgiving. If you made one little slip-up, then you'd have dozens of infections on your hands,” Keroack added.
However, Baystate has come a long way since March.
“When things first started, this disease exploded. We went from 10 to 180 cases in the hospital and zero to 40 in the ICU all within three weeks. We nearly filled the hospital all with one disease,” Keroack explained.
Now, a milestone since the hospital's peak in April.
“Today, we have only 13 cases all at Baystate Medical Center and, for the first time in a long time, we have nobody in our intensive care unit, which is really great,” Keroack noted.
However, the search for personal protective equipment is still a 24/7 operation.
“We continue to work the phones day and night because it’s a competition of one state versus another. [Reporter: It's still that way?] It's still that way because remember, there are 40,000 new cases a day and 900 deaths a day in the United States, down from a little this summer, but that's an amazing rate,” Keroack added.
Keeping the numbers headed in the right direction, as we head into fall is a big concern, particularly, he said, as college kids head back to school
“The schools have reasonable guidelines in place, but all it takes is a few knuckleheads to go have a party on an off-site location and you have another brush fire going on,” Keroack explained.
Keroack said local school districts, kindergarten through grade 12, are doing a thoughtful job and agrees with a remote or hybrid approach to starting the school year and reevaluating in a month or so.
Inside Baystate, two floors remain as designated COVID floors.
“There are two units that have only COVID patients in them, but most of their beds are empty because we have only 13 in the entire hospital, but the state requires them to keep a certain amount of surge capacity available in case things head up again,” Keroack noted.
As we head into the holiday weekend, he said he know's personally how hard it is to stay the course.
“We're heading into the Labor Day weekend and my wife and I were talking that maybe it would be nice to go to Boston or New York or whatever, but maybe we shouldn't do that,” Keroack added.
He's asking everyone, as hard as it may be, to keep up with social distancing to keep the numbers down.
Keroack also said while he doesn't have a crystal ball, since most are wearing masks and social distancing, he predicts a quiet flu season.