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In the beginning days of the COVID-19 pandemic, daffodils adorned the areas outside of Edward and Elmhurst hospitals to celebrate the patients who recovered from the virus.
More than a year later, the daffodil gardens are gone and the flowers have been repurposed as visitor passes to the hospitals.
Much has changed in the past year.
We’ve gone from complete lockdowns (with no visitors allowed in hospitals) to a state that is fully reopened. Schools that were shuttered are planning for a full return in the fall. Children are back on the sports fields. Stores and restaurants are reopened. A sense of normalcy is returning to everyday life.
“We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s exciting,” said Annemarie Schmocker, infection control and prevention manager at Elmhurst Hospital. “I think we’re in a better state of how to prevent the virus and how to treat it.”
But we’ve been through a lot to get to this point.
Since the first cases were diagnosed, COVID-19 has claimed more than 600,000 lives across the country, 23,000 of those deaths in Illinois alone, and infected more than 33.6 million nationwide. Illinois counted more than 1.39 million cases as of July 8, 2021.
Many people lost loved ones. We dealt with depression and anxiety as we faced the uncertainty that came with the pandemic.
And while the pandemic continues, there’s hope.
Today, as more people are vaccinated, COVID-19 infections are at record lows. Illinois recently marked its first day with no COVID-19 related deaths.
In the past year, we’ve learned much about the virus. We have a better idea of how it’s spread and vaccines and treatment options, such as antibody infusions, are proving to provide a strong defense against COVID-19.
When COVID-19 first surfaced in the United States, the elderly were among the hardest hit by the virus. Nursing homes became hot spots for COVID outbreaks and COVID deaths were more prevalent among those over the age of 65. When COVID-19 cases spiked again in the fall of 2020, we saw similar patterns.
In the spring and fall of 2020 surges, the median age for patients admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 was 70 and 15 percent of patients came from nursing homes, said Jonathan Pinsky, MD, medical director of infection control and prevention at Edward Hospital.
But when COVID-19 cases increased again in April of 2021, a different trend emerged. The median age for hospitalization for COVID-19 dropped from 70 to 50, Pinsky said.
The main difference? Vaccines. By April, vaccines had been available to those over the age of 65 for months and many seniors in Illinois were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“That surge was blunted by the effect of the vaccines,” Pinsky said.
By July 2021, more than 58 percent of Illinoisans were fully vaccinated and 66 percent had received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in July 2021 that 67 percent of Americans had received at least one dose of vaccine.
Monoclonal and polyclonal antibody infusions also have helped decrease hospitalization rates among those infected with the virus. When administered within the first few days of onset of symptoms, the infusions can help prevent serious infection and hospitalizations.
“We’re more prepared,” Pinsky said. “We know what medications to use and we have a supply. We’re not really worried about bed capacity anymore because we know so many people are protected.”
To be sure, there’s still much to learn about COVID-19.
New variants have emerged and we’re starting to see a slight uptick in cases. The vaccines, which received emergency use authorization, remain under study to determine how long they last and when, or if, a booster shot will be needed. Studies are underway to determine the efficacy of vaccines and antibody infusions against new variants or strains of COVID-19. Children under the age of 12 still do not have access to a vaccine.
Pinsky adds addressing vaccine hesitancy in the US and making vaccines more readily available around the world is key in the battle against COVID-19.
“I’m optimistic as long as people can get vaccinated,” he said.
Edward-Elmhurst Health has COVID-19 vaccine appointments available to anyone in our communities age 12 and older. It is easy to schedule a vaccine appointment. You do not need a MyChart account. Schedule your COVID-19 vaccine now.
The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.
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