COVID-19 Town Hall: MU Health Care talks prep for college students return
COLUMBIA - With just over two weeks until Mizzou's fall semester begins, KOMU 8's Emily Spain talked with MU Health Care's Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Wakefield about thousands of students returning to Columbia.
Dr. Wakefield said MU Health Care is ready for the increase in the local population. He said health system leaders talk weekly, if not more frequently, with the University of Missouri administration about plans to handle the pandemic and opening campus to students this fall.
Dr. Wakefield talked about the current hospital capacity, testing and a message to parents in Thursday's town hall.
Check out his answers below or watch them in the video above.
Q: How is MU Health Care preparing for this upcoming fall semester?
"So, MU Health Care is preparing for the influx of new students on campus by partnering with the campus as well as Boone County Health Department to develop strategies to test, when appropriate, symptomatic students to trace exposures and to provide guidance and care for our students and for our faculty and staff."
Q: What if anything will change as far as testing college students are back in town?
"I don't think we're going to change our indications for testing. But, we're adding more than 20,000 people potentially to our community. So, we have to have capacity to ensure that we're able to test as appropriate."
Q: Will there be any additional testing locations on campus that MU Health Care is providing?
"I know that's been discussed, but has not been decided."
Q: Does it concern you at all to add 20,000 people to the local population during a pandemic?
"It's not like we're creating 20,000 new people. They're somewhere and they're involved in mitigating the risk of the pandemic in their hometowns. And, you know, education is critically important. So, I think it's a thing that we can manage as long as the healthcare system has the capacity that it does. And, our message of being safe, wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, washing your hands is followed, I don't think it will present an unacceptable risk."
Q: What can you tell me about the current hospital capacity going into the fall semester?
"The hospital as a whole is doing reasonably well. We're at capacity, but it's not due to COVID...So, we're busy. We have the capacity to take care of critically ill patients every day. We're not overwhelmed with patients with COVID at this time. That being said, we have contingency plans to adapt if there is a surge of patients in the future."
Q: How is MU Health Care doing with access to personal protective equipment or PPE?
"We're working very hard with our supply chain to ensure that we have adequate PPE to protect staff, the providers, the patients, the community and our response to COVID includes contingencies, too. As an example, decrease the number of scheduled or elective surgeries to preserve PPE if we need that. We've proven in March that we can do that. And since then, our supply chain systems have worked to ensure that we have adequate PPE. And, we have a goal of maintaining more than weeks worth of supplies to ensure that we can adapt to any surge of patients if it should develop."
Q: What would you say to parents who are sending their children to Mizzou about the health care system here?
"I would say the healthcare system here is filled with experts who are compassionate and very open to taking care of students. You know, we have a great student health system, but we can provide the tertiary or expert care if as necessary."
"I have teenage children so, I'm apprehensive, not about their ability to recover...but, what we don't know is what are the long-term repercussions of COVID. Are you going to have a greater risk of asthma in the future or lung disease in the future? And so, avoiding infection waiting for a vaccine seems to me to be the most prudent approach."
Q: What can the public expect to know as far as outbreaks of COVID-19 among students?
"My understanding is initially the idea was that that was personal health care information and it would not be shared. But, there's been some further discussions about how the public could be informed of potential outbreaks and so that they can protect themselves."