“We have the best hope we have had since the beginning of this crisis,” Houston Methodist president Dr. Marc Boom said Thursday at the hospitals’ eighth virtual “Town Hall” about COVID-19.

His positive message was tempered, though, by a recognition that the next few weeks are likely to be difficult. “I think things are going to get as difficult as they have gotten—certainly across the United States.”

On the other side, he said, “What we’ve been telling you for months—and hoping for months—is appearing to come true.”

“I really think we are well over the hump overall in terms of time, in terms of significant disruption COVID has caused and really starting to see an ability to get to the other end of this whole situation which is obviously ultimately going to be a blessing.

“I think the latter half of 2021 hopefully should be a heck of a lot better than this horrible year of 2020.”

Before that, though, the current surge does not bode well for coming weeks. While the mortality rate has not yet increased as much as the diagnosis rate in the new surge, he said deaths often occur several weeks after diagnosis.

In the summer, he said, the country saw 2,300 to 2,400 deaths a day nationwide in the first spike. “I think we may approach that. 

“I’m hoping we don’t go too much past that, but when you do the math on that, that 250,000 deaths that sadly have occurred…could very easily become 500,000-600,000 deaths before we get to the end of the tunnel, and we have it in our hands to try to prevent that from happening.”

Currently, he said, the new surge is worst in parts of the country that have the lowest compliance with mask-wearing and other protective measures.

Beyond the current surge, though, news of a better treatment and effective vaccine make the new year look promising.

Boom said the hospital is preparing to receive the new vaccine, with the necessary ultra-cold storage to keep the vaccine at the required -80 to -90 degrees.

“We’re really optimistic about what we’ve seen so far,” he said. “We seem to be in the best-case scenario, plus.”

The Pfizer vaccine appears to have a strong safety record and about a 95% effectiveness rate. He said the results don’t appear to vary based on age, race or ethnicity.

He expects the hospital will likely start vaccinating its staff in December, which is the first authorized use expected. Following that, he said high-risk persons should have access to the vaccine by February or March at the latest.

“By April we may see wide-based availability,” Boom said.

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