Geisinger CEO: COVID-19 spreading locally, get vaccinated

The current level of community transmission of COVID-19 across Geisinger’s service area mirrors what occurred last November at the start of the most severe spike in case counts and hospitalizations in Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania, according to the hospital system’s chief executive officer, Dr. Jaewon Ryu.

Geisinger’s rate of positive tests for the airborne disease averaged 11% since August and rose to 13% in the past two weeks, Ryu said during a media briefing Friday. The rate stood at just 2-3% in July.

The rising spread caused upward of 1,200 Geisinger employees to require quarantining, Ryu said.

On average, between 180 and 200 patients were hospitalized with the disease across all 13 of Geisinger’s hospitals the past two weeks, similar to what was experienced in November 2020. Ryu said that in some unspecified Geisinger hospitals, more than 40% of the beds belong to COVID-19 patients.

About 90% of the patients are unvaccinated, he said, adding that the patient base is growing younger. He said about 2/3 are under age 65, the inverse of last winter’s trends.

According to data shared Friday, Geisinger’s peak patient load grew to 389 on Dec. 28, 2020, when vaccines weren’t yet widely available.

“The hospitals at this point have been pretty overwhelmed,” Ryu said. “It takes up beds, resources and affects not just those who have COVID but those who may need care for non-COVID issues, as well.”

Face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and, most importantly, vaccines are necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Ryu said. He said “emerging evidence” indicates that vaccinated people are 5 times less likely to be infected by the disease, 10 times less likely to be hospitalized and 11 times less likely to die. Ryu acknowledged the existence of breakthrough cases, attributed to the delta variant, but said the evidence is clear that the vaccines work.

Geisinger employs approximately 26,500 employees, including more than 1,700 physicians. According to Ryu, 95% of the system’s workforce are either fully vaccinated or in the process. Geisinger extended its deadline to Nov. 1 for all employees to take the vaccine or lose their jobs. That still holds, he said.

“Those who have not met our requirement by Nov. 1, yes, they will be terminated,” Ryu said.

“We’ve heard anecdotally of a very small handful (of employees) that may have left because of the mandate. We don’t know for certain. We wouldn’t expect to see big numbers of that in advance of that deadline,” Ryu said.