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University Of Utah Health Officials Focus On Keeping Frontline Workers Healthy

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — As COVID-19 hospitalizations surge in Utah, one of the greatest concerns is the health of the frontline health care workers.

Dr. Thomas Miller, chief medical officer at University of Utah Health, said he’s focused on that every day and is optimistic a vaccine will make a difference soon.

“Masks are our best medicine until we have a really good vaccine,” Miller said.

Miller has worked in that hospital system for more than 30 years. He said he worries about the health of his staff, but added masks are working until a vaccine arrives.

Miller manages a team of physicians and staff charged with giving the best care possible. Every day, he makes sure COVID-19 units are safe for patients and staff.

Caregivers are still catching COVID-19, but not as readily as those on the outside.

“We have a positivity rate of COVID among our employees that is about half of what it is in the community,” he said.

Miller believes that’s because the hospital instituted universal masking several months ago.

“Our rate of infectivity between employees, or between patients and employees, either way, back-and-forth is very low,” he said. “It’s when we take those masks off and we sit in rooms and have lunch and talk to each other and we think we’re safe, that’s when COVID transmits. So, we know the masks work.”

Miller said he’s optimistic a vaccine will arrive anywhere from mid-December to January, after it is deemed safe by two independent boards.

“This is the fastest development of a vaccine ever in the history of the world,” he said.

Typically, it takes years.

Miller said new technology will also enable companies to make more vaccines faster when it is approved, adding that hospitals can start vaccinating their people before expanding the distribution based on health priorities.

“Help is on the way,” the doctor said.

But, it could be another six months or so before the entire population can be vaccinated, so he said people will need to be patient as the distribution is rolled out in waves.

“We’ve never been in a time where we’ve been able to create a vaccine this quickly,” he said. “It’s still going to take a few more months and that’s still going to be a frustrating time. It is still the time where we need to learn to wear these masks.”

As awkward as it may seem, Miller said we still need to mask up any time we are with people who are not from our immediate households.

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