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Huntington Hospital

Adrian Popp, chair of Infection Control at Huntington Hospital/ Northwell Health and associate professor of Medicine at Hofstra School of Medicine, spoke with TBR News Media newspapers to discuss vaccinations and COVID-19. Please find below an abridged and edited version of the discussion.

TBR: Why do some people have a stronger reaction to a second shot?

POPP: These two vaccines are very well tolerated. Yes, there are some side effects after getting the shots. Indeed, even in the trials, it has been shown that the second shot is sometimes more prone to have side effects. There is pain, tenderness at the site of the shot. Sometimes people can get fatigue, fever and even a chill. It is rare to have something more severe than that … From my experience, most people tolerate them well, including the second shot.

TBR: Should people try to take at least a day off, if they can, after the second shot?

POPP: That is not necessarily unreasonable. A lot of my colleagues did take the shot later in the afternoon and then go home and rest for the evening. If you can afford to have a day off the next day, that’s probably not unreasonable.

TBR: Does having the vaccine free people up to interact with others?

POPP: What we know from the Moderna and Pfizer trials is that the effectiveness of the vaccination is 95 percent to prevent symptomatic disease … Can a vaccinated person develop a light form [of the disease]? In theory, yes. There are not completely safe in [not] transmitting the disease to someone else.

TBR: Have the Black and brown communities, which have been somewhat resistant to taking the vaccine, been included in the clinical studies?

POPP: Those studies with Pfizer and Moderna included these populations. They are well represented in these studies. There’s no significant difference in the side effects in African Americans, or less efficacy in the Black and brown communities …. [The Black and brown communities] should feel comfortable that it’s as safe or as efficacious as it is in a Caucasian person.

TBR: Have people from the Huntington Hospital or Northwell community asked you about the safety of taking the vaccine?

POPP: I do have conversations like this every day with different members of Huntington Hospital [as well as] the community at large … I bring up one very recent study that will probably help in kind of showing a few things. I’m going to bring in Israel, a smaller country with a centralized health care system that has been very good in vaccinating people …. More than 50 percent of their population has received the COVID vaccination. Specifically, the senior population, 65 and above, has received the vaccine in percentages even higher … In a study in the New England Journal of Medicine of more than 600,000 people who received the vaccine, [they] compared the incidence of COVID without the vaccine. They found the protection is more than 90 percent … That tells us the vaccine is very effective.

TBR: What do you hear about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

POPP: The best thing about the [J&J] vaccine is that it’s only one shot and the second thing is that it can be stored at normal temperature compared to the other vaccinations [which require deep freezing] … That allows it to be distributed more easily … It will probably be a good vaccine as well.

TBR: After the shots, what is the immunity?

POPP: After the first shot, approximately a week or two weeks after the first shot, you develop quite a significant level of antibodies. There is a certain amount of protection. With the second shot, the level of antibodies shoots up probably 10 times higher than after the initial shot … Full immunity is one week after you receive the second shot.

TBR: Some reports suggest that people who have COVID and develop antibodies may only need one shot. Is that true?

POPP: There are infectious disease experts looking into this. We do know that after getting COVID, you do develop a certain level of antibodies … That varies widely from person to person … The jury is still out on this one. Truly, we have to look at it in a more scientific way. We’ll find out if this will be an option down the road. At this point, as the recommendation stands, you do have to get both shots, even if you had COVID disease before.

TBR: Do we know more about why one person gets very sick and another has only mild symptoms?

POPP: Up to 50 percent of people who get COVID are either asymptomatic or have really minor symptoms. There are risk factors for developing a serious disease. We know that obesity, hypertension, diabetes and specifically certain immunocompromised conditions are risk factors for more serious disease. I have seen older people in their 90s who do have a mild form of the disease, then I’ve seen somebody in his 40s who has very severe disease … There is no real good way of saying who will develop a more severe disease versus somebody else who will have a milder form.

TBR: What about the aftereffects of COVID?

POPP: I have seen quite a few cases of people who … develop quite severe symptoms. On the milder end, people have a loss of taste and smell. This can last for some time … From my experience, most people will recover from this. On the other hand, people with more severe illness, people who get hospitalized, I have to say that the virus can take a significant toll on that person. I have seen patients who have lost 20 to 40 pounds over a period of a month or a month and a half … Recovering from such a hit of being sick for such a prolonged period of time takes a toll on people. Some patients also develop some degree of cognitive impairment.

TBR: What keeps you up at night?

POPP: Even though [the infection rate] is coming down in New York, it is still not insignificant. It’s still an issue. Until we get … a significant number of our population vaccinated, we’re still going to be in trouble … The only way we can stop the whole thing is by vaccinating as many people as we can.

St. Catherine Chief Nursing Officer Mary Jane Finnegan gives a flu shot during a free mobile clinic at the end of September. Photo from St. Catherine hospital

They lost patients, sleep and time with their families and yet, through some of the most difficult conditions in over a century, they persevered, brought together by the shared goal of saving lives threatened by the pandemic.

The Times Beacon Record Newspapers is pleased to honor the health care workers who put themselves in harm’s way to offer comfort, cures and solutions for COVID-19.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) described health care workers as “heroes beyond belief.” He added, “There are folks who have gotten sick and died, simply because they were just doing their jobs.”

Unusual Requests

Indeed, in some cases, these health care workers took on tasks that aren’t typically a part of their job description or training.

Tricia Coffey on the phone at Huntington Hospital. Photo from Coffey

Take Kristen Thomas, a registered nurse at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. A priest came up to her in the halls of the hospital to ask for an unusual favor. A person had died and the family, who couldn’t be by his side, asked for last rites. The priest knew he couldn’t enter the room.

He asked, “Would you mind taking holy water and anointing the patient?”

She approached the patient, made the sign of the cross and prayed, as the priest stood outside the door.

“A moment like that, you never really plan to do that,” Thomas said. “We tried to give the family a little bit of closure. They didn’t get to attend the normal [rituals].”

For the community and health care workers, normal took on new meaning, especially in the first few months of the pandemic, when Suffolk County became an epicenter of the virus.

With family unable to sit by the bedside, nurses often stepped up, holding up iPad and phones so the family could spend time together virtually.

Marilin Dilone, Emergency Department nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital, called the young family of one of her patients.

Marilin Dilone, emergency department nurse at SBUH decked in full PPE gear. Photo from SBUH

His wife “put the baby on the phone — the baby looked like he was maybe 10 months old. The baby was making noises. I swear [the patient] opened his eyes. The wife is crying. Such a moment, we take for granted. He could hear her say, ‘I love you.’ To be able to provide that was very humbling for me.”

Like Dilone and so many other nurses, Robert Collins, a nurse at Mather Hospital ,shared how he held an iPad up to patients whose conditions were deteriorating so they could say goodbye to their families.

He had to stay in the room because some of the patients couldn’t hold the iPad.

“You do that once or twice, it kind of sticks with you,” Collins said.

Deep Connections

The connections the medical staff made to the families of patients extended well beyond the typical interactions.

“We had patients for an extended period of time,” said Patricia Coffey, nurse manager of the Critical Care Unit at Huntington Hospital.

Coffey, who spent 11 weeks actively caring for patients as her managerial duties “went to the wayside,” said the staff talked to families for extended periods of time. She spoke with some families daily, spending as much as two-and-a-half hours each day on the phone.

The nurses felt like members of the family because the normal support system couldn’t provide bedside support.

“You were channeling the family to the patient,” Coffey said. The nurses were “rooting so hard” for the patients.

When one of those patients who was in the hospital died after a long battle, she said it was “unbelievably heartbreaking — you felt like one of your own family members had died.”

She still keeps in touch with family members.

Mather Nurse Robert Collins. Photo from Mather

Coffey said one of her neighbors was admitted to the hospital with COVID and was on her floor. Coffey’s children and her neighbor’s children grew up together and their daughters were friends.

She not only spoke with his wife every day during her 60-hour weeks, but she also called her coworkers over the weekend to ask how he was doing.

The conversations with the neighbor’s wife were “a little hard. I wanted to be honest with her. He was very critical. At the same time, I was trying to be hopeful. It was a hard balance.”

Coffey said he was “one of the lucky ones who survived.”

Dilone of SBUH described how the work was more physically demanding.

She would “try not to ask for people” as she didn’t want to expose others if it wasn’t necessary. “You are taking care of patients more by yourself, turning them and doing chest PT [physiotherapy] — it was physically more demanding,” Dilone said.

Dark Moments

Watching patients who died took its toll, even on people who have been in the medical profession for decades.

MaryJane Finnegan, chief nursing officer at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, described the unusually high number of people dying from the virus. The hospital was running out of space for the dead. The morgue was filled and an additional refrigeration truck outside also filled quickly.

Mather Nurse Kristen Thomas. Photo from Mather

“One day, eight people died — usually in a week, you can have eight people die, but not eight in a day,” Finnegan said.

Nikki Fiore-Lopez, chief nursing officer at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson said a nurse was present for the death of her mentor. Watching her die was “one of the darkest moments” for the nurse, Fiore-Lopez said.

Many medical professionals encouraged their patients to fight through the worst of the virus.

Stony Brook’s Dilone stayed with a patient whose blood oxygen level kept dropping. She wouldn’t let him fall asleep because she was worried he’d get intubated. She reminded him of his family and that he needed to help himself.

“I felt like Nurse Ratched,” Dilone said, referring to the dreaded nurse from the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Dilone spent hours with this patient. Later, a doctor told her keeping the man awake prevented him from getting intubated.

Unexpected Challenges

With a virus no one had battled before, health care workers had to be flexible, learning about everything from new protocols for admitting patients to the latest and best treatments.

Chief Nursing Officer at St. Charles hospital Nikki Fiore-Lopez delivers flowers to patients at Christmas with Foundation Board Chair member Doug Casimir in 2019. Photo from St. Charles

The staff had to confront the “speed with which everything changed,” said Dr. Eric Morley, associate professor and clinical director in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. “Every day, there were new protocols, new ways to deal with things.”

Hospitals had to create a forward triage system to deal with the flood of COVID patients amid all the other potential emergencies hospitals routinely have.

These efforts required hundreds of employees to “get on the same people to sort people out,” Morley said. Training staff to manage the flow of patients required constant communication.

Even some of the smaller elements of managing the crisis took Morley’s time, such as getting new traffic signs to direct people to an alternate site.

Hospital managers were continually confronted with numerous unexpected challenges.

Ken Roberts, president of Mather Hospital, said the hospital had to ensure the PPE was hospital grade and not counterfeit.

“There were a lot of suspicious and unscrupulous suppliers when supply and demand was unbalanced, and everyone was in crisis,” he explained in an email.

Health care workers tapped into their personal skills to connect with patients.

Angel Figueroa, a registered respiratory therapist at SBUH who grew up in New York City and learned Spanish thanks to his Puerto Rican heritage, walked into some rooms and spoke Spanish to patients.

When he greeted patients in Spanish, “I would see their eyes open up [and think], ‘Somebody understands me.’”

They would ask him numerous questions, particularly because the medical information came at them so quickly. 

Mather’s Collins described how the routine changed so dramatically the moment he arrived at work.

Mather President Ken Roberts holds a sign thanking health care workers. Photo from Mather

“Rapid response bells were going off as soon as you walked in,” he said. “You didn’t take your coat off” before patients needed attention. “People were not doing well. That was happening more frequently than before. That was an adjustment.”

On the other side of the struggle, health care workers felt a tremendous sense of relief when patients continued their recoveries at home.

“When people were discharged, the staff was thrilled,” St. Catherine’s Finnegan said. “We’d play the [Beatles] song, ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ A lot of hospitals did that. People would gather as many as possible to wish the person well as they were wheeled out.”

Teamwork

Through the difficulties, though, Morley appreciated the support from the community and the families, along with the teamwork and camaraderie from so many departments and staff that all pulled together.

Roberts expressed similar sentiments.

“I was extremely pleased at the teamwork displayed by all hospital staff during the height of the pandemic,” he said.

The Mather president was also grateful for the letters, cards, donated meals, handmade masks and donated PPE.

“The local communities we serve gave us and continue to give us tremendous support and encouragement,” Roberts said. “That has meant so much to the staff to know that the community was supporting them and recognizing their efforts.”

Stony Brook Respiratory Therapist Angel Figueroa wearing mask and shield. Photo from SBUH

Coffey, from Huntington Hospital, was impressed with how, even amid such extraordinary and challenging times, numerous groups collaborated.

“In many ways there were positive things — the community, the team, everyone working together,” she said. “Parts of it were so uplifting. As hard and as difficult and sad and heart wrenching [as it was], so many other parts, you just saw such humanity. It was amazing.” 

Lasting Thoughts

Finnegan said the staff was incredibly appreciative of all the food local restaurants donated.

In fact, some of them joke that they gained the “COVID-19,” referring to the weight they put on while they were working numerous shifts and benefiting from all the donated food.

Morley “rediscovered” Twinkies during COVID in the break room. He has since been able to lose the weight the snack cakes added.

While gyms were closed, Collins relieved stress by buying a 400-pound tractor-trailer tire that he flipped up and down along his driveway. He also took a sledgehammer and “beat on it.”

The exertion would make him tired enough that the stress would dissipate for the day.

Dr. Eric Morley from SBU participates in COVID testing. Photo from SBU

Ultimately, what made an ever-expanding job — that affected so many aspects of health care workers’ personal and professional lives — manageable was the shared sense of purpose and the inspiration people drew from each other.

“The fact that the staff was out there doing it” helped give her energy, St. Charles’ Fiore-Lopez said. “We had patients to care for, we had shifts. We had days and weeks and months to get through. They put one foot in front of the other and I needed to do the same.”

Morley appreciated the way the Stony Brook staff pulled together during an intense and challenging time.

“Although it was grueling, it was a special thing to go through with that group of people,” he said.

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Photo from Huntington Hospital

Huntington Hospital has been recognized with American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline gold plus award for its high-quality care of people with severe heart attacks. The hospital earned this distinction by providing life-saving, time-sensitive patients who experience ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI), the most serious type of heart attack caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart. National guidelines recommend that balloon angioplasty be performed within 90 minutes or less of arrival to the hospital. 

This is the first time the hospital has achieved the gold designation; Huntington Hospital received the silver award last year. 

“This achievement was made possible through Huntington Hospital’s partnership between its emergency department and cardiac catheterization laboratory teams, as well as our strong relationship with our community first responders,” said Lawrence Ong, MD, vice president of cardiology for Northwell Health’s Eastern region and chairman of cardiology at Huntington Hospital. The hospital has two cardiac catheterization laboratories as well as two electrophysiology areas

Treatment done this quickly has been made possible in part through the hospital’s use of the LifeNet system, which allows first responders to securely send important health information Electrocardiograms (ECG) to Huntington Hospital’s emergency cardiac team so they can mobilize to help the incoming patient.

For more information about Huntington Hospital’s cardiac services, call 631-351-2000.

 

Mather Hospital changed its visitation policies Nov. 23. File photo by Alex Petroski

This story was updated Wednesday to include Stony Brook University Hospital.

Amid increases in the percentage of positive tests for coronavirus, Northwell hospitals including Huntington Hospital and Mather Hospital have changed their visitor policies.

Effective on Tuesday, Nov. 24, Mather Hospital has suspended patient visitation, including the Emergency Department and Transition Care Unit.

The exceptions for visitors include patients for whom a support person is considered medically necessary, including people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities and patients with cognitive impairments, including dementia.

Additionally, patients in imminent end-of-life situations may be allowed a family member or legal representative as a support at the bedside. The Department of Health defines imminent end-of-life as a patient who may die within 24 hours.

Pediatric visits in Emergency Departments are limited to one parent or guardian. Adolescent psychiatry, meanwhile, is limited to one parent or guardian between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 and 7:30 p.m.

Visitors must meet several criteria at Mather. They have to be 18 years old or older, have not been exposed to COVID-19 and be screened for symptoms. Visitors also have to wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Those who don’t wear such PPE won’t be permitted in the hospital.

Visitors will have to stay in the patient room during the visit. When they leave the room, visitors will remove their PPE, wash their hands and leave the hospital. Visitors should not be in the room during aerosol-generating procedures.

Patients can choose who can and can’t visit and may select priority support people.

A view of the front entrance to Huntington Hospital on Park Avenue in Huntington. File photo

Huntington Hospital

Meanwhile, at Huntington Hospital, all visitation, except for extraordinary circumstances, is suspended, effective Nov. 30.

The hospital has experience an increase in cases, although the total numbers remain low, with fewer than 20 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

“Social Distance and mask wearing by the community is critical,” Nick Fitterman, Executive Director at Huntington Hospital, said through an email.

One support person for patients in the Center for Mothers and Babies may remain throughout the hospital stay.

Outpatient Radiology services are canceled, effective Nov. 30.

Huntington Hospital’s surgical services are fully operation. The staff will take COVID-negative surgical patients through the hospital’s safe pathways.

The hospital strictly enforces universal masking, protective eyewear, hand hygiene and social distancing.

“We remain confident in these practices, and that they will protect our patients from COVID-19 while in the hospital,” Fitterman said.

File photo

Stony Brook Hospital

Starting on Friday, Nov. 27, all visitation is suspended except for patient support persons or family members and/or legal representatives of patients in imminent end-of-life situations.

Hospitals will permit a patient support person at the bedside for patients in labor and delivery, pediatric patients patients with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities or patients with cognitive impairments including dementia.

Huntington Hospital, will soon be home to a new caregiver program center due to a philanthropic gift from Charles and Helen Reichert. Photo from Northwell Health

Thanks to Charles and Helen Reichert, a center for a new caregiver program at Huntington Hospital, part of Northwell Health, will be ready by the first quarter of next year.

To be named the Reichert Family Caregiver Center, the philanthropic gift came this month to give the new program a space to help patients, their families and the community.

“The program was designed to support the family caregiver — the people taking care of their own loved ones that carry with them the stress, possible burden, the need for information and resources or emotional support,” said Cheryl Miranda, the hospital’s director of patient and customer experience. “For them, it’s almost like CPR for the family.”

She said the families dealing with their loved ones who are in the hospital are known as the silent patients.

“They do an amazing job to try to take care of their family members,” she added.

The caregiver program was implemented before COVID as a pilot, which is made up of different components, all to connect those caring for the chronically ill with programs and resources that can relieve their burden. The center will work within the hospital to help families with ongoing care after discharge.

“Once we have the new center, we’ll have the ability to give people space in real time,” Miranda said. “Someone will be there to be with them, hold their hands and let them cry.”

From emotional support to other resources like food delivery options, the center plans on walking the family through whatever they need when they leave the hospital.

“Our social workers and case managers, as great a job as they do with the patients and their families, it’s a short time they’re with them,” Miranda said. “This allows us to be connected with them and bring continual support throughout this community.”

And because of the Reichert family, the hospital can now fund the center and a full-salaried social worker to help out. Known for their philanthropy throughout the community, the Reicherts have been instrumental in implementing new technologies and services throughout Northwell Health.

Previously the Reicherts donated to  Northwell Health Reichert Family Imaging at Huntington in Greenlawn and the reception area of the Huntington Hospital Emergency Department, as well as supporting the hospital’s Center for Mothers and Babies. The Reichert family’s donations also funded the purchase of the hospital’s first 3D mammography machine.

“The Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation is committed to building stronger and healthier communities,” Charles Reichert said. “We are proud to partner with Huntington Hospital to create this much-needed program that will provide support, assistance and respite. You don’t realize how important a caregiver is until you become one.”

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Residents on Long Island and elsewhere can’t call their doctor’s offices and ask to receive all of the same treatment that sent President Donald Trump (R) from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center back to the White House and the campaign trail.

Dr. Luis Marcos said SBU was planning to participate in the second Regeneron trial, but a general lack of COVID patients scrapped that idea. Photo from SBU

After officials said he tested positive for COVID-19 Oct. 2, the president received a combination of the antiviral drug Remdesivir, an antibody cocktail from Regeneron, and the steroid dexamethasone.

Remdesivir has become more widely used in hospitals on Long Island.

The last two months, “all patients admitted to the hospital may qualify for Remdesivir according to the clinical judgment of your doctor,” said Dr. Luis Marcos, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.

The patient population that is most likely to benefit from Remdesivir includes residents who are over 60, have diabetes with hypertension and have been admitted to the hospital with mild pneumonia.

Patients who have liver disease or kidney failure may not be prescribed the intravenous drug.

Typically, Remdesivir, like other antiviral drugs, benefits patients who have contracted COVID-19 within a week, because the medicine stops the replication of the virus.

Patients who received Remdesivir after an infection that lasted more than 10 days may not benefit as much because the drug won’t reverse damage done to the lungs.

The side effects of antivirals typically last one to two days.

Dexamethasone is also available and used in hospitals including Huntington Hospitals and Stony Brook.

As a steroid, dexamethasone has “multiple side effects,” said Dr. Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital. “It is only given when the benefit is expected to significantly outweigh the risk and so there’s going to be that assessment in every case,” Dr. Grosso said.

Patients with diabetes are likely to experience “more trouble with their blood sugar control if they’re receiving dexamethasone,” Grosso added.

Dexamethasone can also produce sleeplessness and, in some cases, psychiatric disturbances, doctors added.

The monoclonal antibody cocktail from Regeneron the president received has had limited use, mostly through clinical trials and in compassionate care cases. It has not received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, although it has applied for emergency use authorization.

Stony Brook was planning to participate in the second trial of Regeneron, with Dr. Bettina Fries, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, as the principal investigator and Dr. Marcos as the co-principal investigator. The hospital did not participate because it didn’t have enough cases.

Marcos said the cocktail of antibodies block the virus actively causing inflammation.

The good news with the Regeneron treatment is that the side effects appear minimal, Marcos said.

Regeneron is unlikely to reverse the damage in the lungs caused by the virus. In managing patient care, doctors try to slow or stop the progression of pneumonia from the virus.

Marcos said patients who are asymptomatic or have minor symptoms shouldn’t race to take the more widely available Remdesivir or Dexamethasone because 99% of patients with COVID infection do not have pneumonia. Those patients with a mild upper respiratory infection may not need anything but Tylenol.

Patients who are developing more severe symptoms can come to the hospital to determine the best medical response.

“If you have fever or you don’t feel that great, of course, come to the Emergency Room, we can evaluate you, and decide what to do next. For mild, mild cases, I don’t think we should be using Remdesivir,” Grosso said.

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Get a flu shot now. 

While timing a flu shot can seem like timing the stock market — buying or selling a stock now might mean missing out on gains later — it’s not. A flu shot generally provides immunological coverage against the flu from about four weeks after the shot until six months later.

With a flu season that doesn’t follow a yearly calendar, residents sometimes try to balance between minimizing the possible effect of exposure to the flu in the next few weeks with exposure to the flu in the middle of the spring.

“It makes most health professionals very uncomfortable when people [suggest holding off on protection through the spring] as a reason to delay immunization, as it takes four weeks for protective antibodies to mature,” said Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital. Influenza season can begin as early as November and sometimes earlier, so “any time now would be the right time.”

Medical professionals urged people to be even more proactive about getting a flu shot this year, as the pandemic continues to lurk in the shadows, on door knobs, and within six feet of an infected individual.

When people contract the flu along with other respiratory illnesses, the combination, as people might expect, can cause significant sickness.

“The novel coronavirus is just that, it’s novel,” Grosso said. “We don’t know exactly how it will interact with influenza. We do have significant prior experience with concurrent infections with other respiratory viruses. Individuals coinfected with one or more serious respiratory viruses frequently get sicker.”

That’s the case for both children and adults, Grosso added.

Getting an influenza vaccine could also reduce the confusion that will occur if people experience flu-like symptoms, which are also a hallmark of COVID-19 cases.

“Getting as much of the population immunized as possible is even more important than at other times,” Grosso said.

Each year, somewhere between 150,000 to 180,000 people are hospitalized from the flu and the death toll can range between 12,000 to 61,000 people per year in the U.S.

Doctors recommended that people who are 65 and older get a quadrivalent flu shot, which includes an additional influenza B strain.

In a trial of 30,000 people over 65, people who received the quadrivalent shot had 24% fewer illnesses compared to those who got the standard shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Susan Donelan, Medical Director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony Brook Medicine, said the side effects of the flu shot include an uncomfortable arm for a few days, a low grade fever and fatigue.

“The vast majority of people can easily manage the minor side effects for a day or two with Tylenol or Ibuprofen or a cold pack on their arm,” Dr. Donelan said.

Doctors said practices such as wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent hand washing, which are designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19, are also helpful in cutting down on the transmission of the flu.

Those measures will only help if residents exercise them correctly. Masks that fall below the nose of the wearer, which may make it easier to breathe, are not as effective at reducing the spread of these viruses, Dr. Donelan said.

 

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Dr. Nick Fitterman said they wouldn't necessarily endorse a COVID-19 vaccine immediately without first getting all the information. Photo from Huntington Hospital

Huntington Hospital won’t automatically endorse a COVID-19 vaccine, even if it receives approval from the federal government.

The hospital plans to evaluate the data from the vaccine’s phase 3 trials to ensure that the vaccine is safe and effective.

“We’ll see if things are starting to uptick long before it’s more obvious to the public.”

— Nick Fitterman

“It’s part of our oath, ‘Do no harm,’” said Dr. Nick Fitterman, executive director at Huntington Hospital. “If we don’t think the safety is there, I will scream it from the rooftops. It has to be a combination of safety and efficacy.”

Fitterman said at least seven vaccines are in phase 3 trials, with over 250 experimental vaccines in the works in total.

Fitterman was pleased to see that nine vaccine makers signed a pledge to uphold medical standards and not succumb to governmental pressure for rapid approval.

At this point, Fitterman would only take a vaccine after publication of the evidence from the clinical trials.

Once he is convinced that a vaccine is safe and effective, he said he would feel an urgency to take it as a health care worker.

“If you take care of people who are high risk, you’re going to need to take it,” Fitterman said.

The hospital would likely have the same policy for a COVID vaccine that it does for a flu vaccination: if workers choose not to get a vaccine, they will be required to wear a mask.

For the flu, hospital workers with purple badges on their name tags have had a flu shot.

At this point, it is unclear how long a COVID-19 vaccination might provide potential protection. Like tetanus or mumps, no vaccine wards off infection indefinitely, which means people will likely require boosters.

“I’m more worried about people getting complacent because they have been vaccinated,” Fitterman said.

Years down the road, the virus could return.

Asked whether those people who have antibodies for the virus would need a vaccine, Fitterman highlighted a recent case in Hong Kong. Published in the journal Lancet, doctors shared the story of one patient who contracted COVID-19 and then tested positive again.

The virus currently has several strains, so a vaccine might provide greater protection than natural antibodies against a single type of COVID-19.

The man who contracted the virus twice had antibodies that “didn’t protect him from another infection,” but he did not have any symptoms during the second positive test.

An infection in which a person develops antibodies could “protect you from the disease, but it doesn’t [necessarily] protect you from getting infected again,” Fitterman said.

A health care worker in particular would benefit from a vaccine that prevented infection from numerous strains to prevent that worker from spreading a disease to which he or she would likely be exposed during the course of any increase in cases.

With the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 overlapping with the flu, Fittterman strongly urged residents to get a flu shot, which would help prevent the virus from overwhelming a health care system that might again face an influx of hospitalizations from the coronavirus.

“It’s part of our oath, ‘Do no harm.'”

— Nick Fitterman

Huntington Hospital recently started making the flu vaccine available to frontline workers and urged people to get flu shots this month. He reminded people that the vaccine only works two weeks after an injection after the immune system has had a chance to recognize the virus.

Fitterman is encouraged by the range of current vaccines in trials for COVID-19, including those that use messenger RNA.

Fitterman said Huntington Hospital is prepared for a potential second wave of COVID-19. He monitors the data every day.

“We’ll see if things are starting to uptick long before it’s more obvious to the public,” Fitterman said.

As a part of Northwell Health, Huntington Hospital has stockpiled personal protective equipment. Northwell also gave Huntington $4 million to be prepared, which includes having more ventilators, dialysis machines, and negative pressure rooms ready. Huntington can handle 10% more than the number of patients who needed medical help in the spring.

“We are beyond ready [but we] hope we don’t have to exercise any of that,” Fitterman said.

Fitterman urged those people who need other hospital services, such as cancer screenings, to come to the hospital.

When the spring surge for COVID-19 occurred, the hospital told people who were dealing with nonemergency situations not to come to the hospital because they needed the beds, and not because they felt patients would be exposed to the virus.

Indeed, after the viral numbers declined, the hospital tested its staff for the presence of the antibodies. They found that 9% of the staff had antibodies to the virus, which is below the 14% for the surrounding community.

“What we did works,” Fitterman said, which included PPE and procedures to protect the staff. The hospital is a “safe place to be,” he said.

In monitoring the daily changes in infection in Suffolk County, Fitterman said positive tests have been rising and falling during the last few weeks. So far, he has not seen an increase in hospitalizations.

“Our numbers continue to go down,” Fitterman said, as the hospital had three people with COVID-19 as of Sept. 8.

Photo from Northwell Health

Empire Subaru of Huntington has once again selected Huntington Hospital as the recipient of Subaru’s Share the Love program. The dealership donated more than $50,000 to Huntington Hospital’s award-winning neurosurgery department. This is the second year the dealership has donated to the hospital. Pictured at the check presentation on Aug. 7, from left, are Dr. Robert Kerr; Empire Subaru Sales Manager Vinny Rizzo; Vice Chair of Huntington Hospital’s board Thomas Lederer; Empire Subaru General Manager Gary Farley; and Huntington Hospital’s Executive Director Dr. Nick Fitterman.

Stony Brook University Hospital

Suffolk hospitals are slowly getting back to some normalcy as the number of COVID-19 patients continue to decrease on Long Island. As hospitals have gotten past the peak of the pandemic, they are now facing the challenge of reassuring the public that their facilities are safe. 

“I think it is incredibly important that people feel comfortable and safe whether it’s seeing their personal physician or coming to the hospital,” said Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director, Department of Infectious Diseases, Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. 

Nancy Axelrod, of Old Field, braved post-COVID Huntington Hospital to get knee replacement surgery.
Photo from Axelrod

Donelan said SBU Hospital has implemented a number of protocols to ensure worker and patient safety. For individuals that are going to outpatient centers and physician offices, they are advised to remain in their vehicles and complete their normal check-in process using their cellphones. Waiting rooms are arranged to allow for optimal social distancing. 

The medical director said they hope to quell any fears patients may have. 

“Patients shouldn’t suspend any routine health procedures — I think it is a safe and a good time to come back,” Donelan said. 

For those that come to the hospital for a procedure, patients will have a conversation with a triage nurse over the phone before they come in. They will undergo temperature checks and screened for COVID symptoms. Patients suspected of having coronavirus are separated from other patients. 

“We’ve increased our cleaning frequency, we want to make sure our patients and workers are entering a safe environment,” Donelan said. 

Like other facilities, SBU Hospital has made adjustments to its visitor policy in an effort to limit potential exposure. Currently, only one visitor can visit a patient and are only allowed a three-hour time window. 

Donelan said the feedback they’ve gotten from staff and patients on their safety measures has been positive. 

“We’ve been pleased with the feedback, they have appreciated our aggressive approach and attention to detail,” she said.

Dr. Nick Fitterman, executive director of Huntington Hospital, said they are trying to get word out to the public that its facilities are safe and stressed the need for individuals to seek out medical care. 

“March and April, we were all hands on deck,” he said. “We went from having around 300 COVID-19 cases to now only having six.”

Fitteram understands the public concerns of returning but said they have created essentially a “hospital within a hospital,” where COVID patients are isolated in another section of the building away from non-COVID patients. 

“COVID patients are assigned nurses and doctors that only treat them, they do not see any other patients,” Fitterman said. 

The hospital has implemented thermal cameras used to help check temperatures of staff, patients and visitors. Workers are screened daily for COVID symptoms. Fitterman said that they are limiting visiting hours and allow only one visitor per patient.  

“It is important not only to protect the patients but to protect our staff as well,” he said. 

Nancy Axelrod, of Old Field, said she can attest to the hospital’s safety protocols. With elective surgeries allowed again, Axelrod was able to get right knee replacement surgery last month. She underwent left knee replacement surgery right before COVID hit Long Island. 

“It was something I needed to get done, I’ve suffered from severe arthritis,” she said. “From talking to the doctors, I felt strongly that I was safe.”

Huntington Hospital had about 1,000 surgeries that were put on hold. In an effort to keep patients safe, they have installed a separate “pathway” for them when they get to the hospital. 

Axelrod said she had to go through a number of tests and screening before the surgery. 

“I would tell people not to put off seeing your doctor or getting an important surgery,” she said. “The time to do it is now — I feel that the hospital is doing an awful lot to ensure patient safety.”