COVID-19: MUSC Presidential Update - April 15, 2020

Dear MUSC family,

Please take a couple of moments to view this video message from me that will set the stage for the rest of what I’d like to share with you today:

These recent op-eds published in the Post and Courier also provide a 30,000-foot view of how we move forward:

SC cases may peak by early May; Let’s plan now for what comes next

SC needs a statewide leader to guide us out of the pandemic

Our ability to pivot rapidly from ensuring that our health care system has the capacity to handle COVID-19 patients to doing our part in helping to implement a staged, sequential revitalization of the state and local economy, as quickly and reliably as possible, will depend on our ability to understand how well we’ve flattened the curve and plan now for a thoughtful phased re-entry into normalcy.

You should know that a tremendous amount of work has been ongoing behind the scenes to refine and mature our MUSC models and projections in an effort to create a common language for all of us to use in preparing for COVID-19 and planning beyond the first wave. I cannot thank Dr. Michael Sweat and his expert team in the Center for Global Health enough for their yeomen’s work, particularly during the last week or two. Today, we are sharing this resource, which will be updated twice a week, with you and the news media for the first time.

Our data continues to indicate a peak volume of COVID patients in late April or early May. The peak is likely to be more manageable than originally anticipated based on the actions taken at state and local levels to implement social distancing. Our health system has prepared well for a first wave. As I see it, the parameters that would allow us to begin our new path to normalcy are:

1. S.C. hospital systems having the assets and capacity to treat patients with COVID-19 with adequate staff, beds, ventilators and PPE.

2. A very low incidence of new COVID-19 infections. If current models hold true, these conditions will likely exist in approximately four to six weeks.

As I’ve previously said, NOW is the time to develop the plans and infrastructure needed to have a successful MUSC enterprise and larger community economic recovery. We also cannot ignore the significant possibility that a second COVID-19 wave will emerge as a result of relaxed social distancing restrictions, which could reverse or cripple any economic progress. To do everything we can to avoid that scenario and move forward as a statewide community, there are five essential actions we need to take:

1. Staged Economic Revitalization – Developing and deploying a strategic staged revitalization of the economy, prioritizing the highest impact economic drivers that represent the lowest COVID-19 second-wave risk.

We get there by:

2. Disease testing – Continuing to develop our ability to test those who have symptoms of COVID-19. You are well aware of our in-house PCR testing capability that our health system is using to resume some urgent OR and other procedures.

3. Immunity testing – Developing and deploying tests for immunity to COVID-19 and certifying those who are as recovered and immune to COVID-19. This work is ongoing, and we will be sharing more detail about these efforts soon.

4. Contact tracing – Having a system in place to identify and trace contacts and quarantining individuals at risk. We are working with the Department of Health and Environmental Services and other partners across the state to move this forward in a more meaningful way for the days ahead.

5. Protecting the vulnerable – Ensuring that the most vulnerable, including the elderly, minority communities and persons with chronic disease and weakened immune systems, remain socially distanced, protected and supported until the epidemic is well-controlled.

In the days ahead, you will hear more specifics and strategies related to these five areas as details are confirmed, partnerships are formed and finalized and so on.

As always, your commitment and dedication to all of those we serve, to each other, to innovation and to the mission of MUSC fills me with gratitude and admiration for our MUSC family. Thank you for all you are doing today and every day. We will continue to move forward, together.

Yours in service,

David J. Cole, M.D., FACS
MUSC president