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Dr. Michael Apostolakos on the Response to COVID-19 in Rochester

ROCHESTER, NY – Greek-American Dr. Michael Apostolakos is managing the COVID-19 pandemic at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Strong Memorial Hospital and Highland Hospital and told News10 NBC on April 20 that social distancing has helped the area “avoid at least an initial apex.”

URMC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Apostolakos is board certified in Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine. He is Professor of Medicine and Director of Adult Critical Care as well as Director of the Internal Medicine Critical Care Medicine Fellowship at the URMC.

Dr. Apostolakos spoke with News10 NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke about the hospitals' response, and noted that he and his team are “holding up great.”

“These sort of crises really pull people together and I can’t be more proud of our entire organization, everyone is lifting each other up, we’re helping each other, asking how we’re doing, and I just can’t say enough about our frontline people that are taking such great care of our community, our patients,” Dr. Apostolakos said, News10 NBC reported.

“For more than a week now, the number of patients with new cases of COVID-19 has been nearly equal to the number of patients discharged, and he believes we’re maintaining a plateau,” News10 NBC reported.

Of the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), Dr. Apostolakos told News10 NBC, “We have weeks of supplies, gloves, masks, gowns, visors, face shields, and N95 masks, everything we need to keep people safe. I can only thank the community… The community has done a great job, under the leadership of our county executive and our governor, in keeping social distancing, that has really kept the amount of patients coming in stable, enabling us to take care of them the way they deserve to be taken care of, saving our resources and providing back-up of resources, so I just can’t thank the community enough.”

Of the number of cases in the area, Dr. Apostolakos told News10 NBC, “We’re certainly at a plateau, where the number of patients coming into the hospital equals the amount of patients we’re discharging.

“Social distancing has allowed us to be able to take care of the patients that come in, without social distancing, a lot more people would get sick acutely and would overrun our health care system, and not enable us to take care of them, however, with social distancing, it prolongs this peak into a plateau, so we could be at a plateau for some time, and if we stop social distancing, then, because we haven’t, in my opinion, had enough patients exposed in the area, we could take off to a very high peak, so we’re still in a danger period.”

Dr. Apostolakos said of reopening things, News10 NBC reported, “We’re working with both the New York State Department of Health and our local department of health and we believe that we can take care of patients safely at this point, that we can slowly open things up with appropriate PPE for our healthcare workers and our faculty but also providing the same protection for our patients and their support people, and I also believe, and I can’t speak for the local department of health or the NY State Health Department, but I think that they are looking at strategies to re-open things slowly but continue with things such as social distancing and masking, I look at this as a positive that we’re even talking about this but I believe it’s going to be some time before we open things up like we did before, we’re referring to this as a redesign not a reopening, the way we interact with each other at least for the foreseeable future will be different but we need to open up from where we are now.”

“We’re still probably 6-8 weeks away from a more normal life, over this time, that you’ll see more openings… people will distance themselves, wear masks… I don’t think we’ll probably be back to totally normal until we have a vaccine,” he told News10 NBC, adding that “we’re one of nine NIH funded vaccine trials evaluation units and as soon as this summer we will be enrolling people in vaccine trails and that, I really believe, is the key to this and getting back to normal life.”

Of testing for the virus and its antibodies, he told News10 NBC, “We now have capabilities of about 1,000 a day, we’ve been testing in the 700-800 range daily that gives us plenty of testing for patients that need to be hospitalized, for our frontline staff, for emergency services workers, and now for patients that are undergoing procedures that may be risky to them, for example, immunosuppressive therapy, like cancer chemotherapy, we have plenty of tests for that.

“Herd immunity is when enough people in the community have been exposed that it can’t go from person to person because so many people are immune. Right now, in Rochester, it doesn’t look like we’re anywhere near herd immunity, we’ve done such a good job with social distancing that probably less than 10 percent, maybe even less than five percent of the community has been exposed. As far as research goes, we’re going to be developing our own internal, antibody test that should be ready in about two weeks, we should be able to do as many as 1,000 tests a day of antibodies. We believe antibodies likely make people immune, we don’t know this for sure, but antibodies are what you produce to fight infection. We’re making plans now how to do this, first testing our healthcare workers to see if they’re immune and later the community to see how prevalent the disease was.”

When asked about asymptomatic people and how long they could be infectious to others, Dr. Apostolakos told News10 NBC, that no one knows exactly at this time, “We believe that upwards of 25% of patients with COVID can be asymptomatic and many times we can’t diagnose them because they are asymptomatic… from our testing of asymptomatic patients, and we’re testing people preoperatively now, before they have babies, and other times… that we want to know if patients have had COVID or not, we’re finding 2-3 percent of patients we’re testing without symptoms are positive, how long they could shed? It could be days to a couple of weeks.”

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