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Q&A: What healthcare professionals can do to stay safe while traveling and attending live events

News | Coronavirus

Q&A: What healthcare professionals can do to stay safe while traveling and attending live events

  • HFMA’s requirement of proof of vaccination for everyone attending the 2021 Annual Conference makes a big difference, according to Mayo Clinic’s Sean C. Dowdy, who is one of the individuals working on COVID-19 modeling to predict the number of hospitalizations in the Mayo system.
  • With COVID-19 modeling, it’s easier to see when a surge is coming and how high the numbers are going to get, but it's more difficult to tell when it's going to level off.
  • To stay safe while traveling and attending conferences, the top things people can do include being fully vaccinated, wearing a mask in public spaces and using hand sanitizer regularly.

Heading into HFMA’s 2021 Annual Conference Nov. 8-10 in Minneapolis, we asked Mayo Clinic’s Sean C. Dowdy, MD, to share best practices for staying safe while traveling and attending live events. Dowdy, who is the clinical director for the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program for the Department of Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, also discussed his work on modeling and forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations.

HFMA’s requirement of proof of vaccination for everyone attending the conference “makes a really big difference,” Dowdy said. “The vaccinations are the most important thing.”

Q:  Can you tell us more about the COVID modeling work you’ve been doing?

The modeling that we've been doing started last spring to help us predict the hospital census. A lot of the [other] models [out there] were looking at cases of COVID and also deaths from COVID. What we were interested in was the number of hospitalizations because those other two factors aren't quite as important if the hospital's full [because] that has a big stress on our ability to care for patients safely. Later on we added the number of staff members that we can expect to be out from work to [the modeling] so we know where we stand in our ability to take care of patients. Although it was difficult at first to know how we were going to do this, eventually we came up with this model that has worked incredibly well and has been quite accurate.

The problem [with modeling] is it is much like predicting the weather. If we were to predict the weather tomorrow, we could give you a pretty good understanding of what it was tomorrow and next week, but probably not a month from now. So for the next week or two, and even up to four weeks, we have a pretty good understanding of what the hospitalizations are going to be within a confidence interval.

Q:  What is your modeling showing in your region, given HFMA’s 2021 Annual Conference is being held in Minneapolis?

You can think of Minnesota, but there's a lot of little parts of Minnesota, so you could also look at Olmsted County, where I live in Rochester, and that's a little bit unusual in that the vaccination rate is somewhere around 80%. And so the [COVID] cases can only get up to a certain point. With the delta variant, you can still get the virus even if you're vaccinated, but your chances of being hospitalized are much, much lower. So even though [the vaccine] is not as effective at preventing infection, it's still very effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization, which is why there's a limit to how many cases or how many hospitalizations we're going to have in Olmsted.

Outside of Olmsted, it's going to vary significantly based on what proportion of people are vaccinated. In Olmsted we are having a surge right now, but it's kind of leveled off and it's been pretty much at a plateau for the last month or so. Hopefully it will start to go down in early October, but that's one of the difficult things to predict. We know when a surge is coming, and we have some sense of how high it's going to get, but it's more difficult to tell when it's going to level off again.

We have a site called the Mayo Clinic COVID Tracker, where you can look at the state of Minnesota [or other states] and at specific counties to give you kind of a visual of what we [have seen] in the past and what we can expect over the next couple of weeks.

Q:  With HFMA’s Annual Conference coming soon, can you share some best practices with our members about how to stay safe when traveling and attending live events during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It makes a really big difference that you've required vaccination to attend the conference, and you're going at it the right way. The vaccinations are the most important thing. I would recommend universal masking. I know it's not real popular, but [in Olmsted County], we don't have a mask mandate, but when I go to the gym [or other public places], I wear a mask.

I think having hand sanitizers, so people can wash their hands at the conference and during their travel, is important as well. And then at the convention center, hopefully they have best practices of cleaning surfaces and doorknobs with disinfectant and that kind of thing. One of the bigger risks is during mealtimes [when people need to remove their masks]. There should be some attempt to have some degree of social distancing during meals: at least three feet [between people].

About the Author

Deborah Filipek

is a senior editor with HFMA, Westchester, Ill.

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