UPIKE taking steps toward safe, in-person return for fall 2021

Thanks to a very successful county-wide vaccination program led by the Pike County Health Department, with help from Pikeville Medical Center (PMC), and new recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the University of Pikeville (UPIKE) is pleased to announce future changes to Healthy at UPIKE COVID-19 protocol. Based on these factors, UPIKE administration is highly optimistic about the prospect of returning to face-to-face instruction in the fall of 2021. 

In light of new data, the CDC relaxed its physical distancing guidelines for classrooms, recommending students maintain at least three feet of distance instead of the previously recommended six feet. The agency recently released three new studies that support distancing of three feet between students, as long as everyone is wearing a mask and other prevention measures are in place, such as frequent hand washing, respiratory etiquette and cleaning of high-touch areas.

Using 2019 census data, Pike County Health Department Public Health Director Tammy Riley reports that while the Kentucky average is 19.6 percent of people are vaccinated, Pike County is well above that with an average of 29.7 percent of residents being fully vaccinated. Riley suggested that number could be as high as 40 percent, with local vaccination sites behind in their reporting to the CDC. The national average is 22.3 percent. 

Riley expressed appreciation for UPIKE’s participation on the local COVID task force committee that played an important role in assisting the county with navigating the waters of COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, and for the leadership displayed in the community to properly educate citizens on the benefits of vaccination.

“There have been strong partnerships between the medical community, public health and organizations like the University of Pikeville,” Riley stated. “This has definitely been a major factor in the success that we have seen in lowering the number of cases in recent weeks and having well above state and national averages of total people vaccinated for our county.”

Riley attributes the recent, rapid decline in COVID-19 cases to the high compliance with public health recommendations, such as social distancing and face coverings, the quick response of the community to become vaccinated, and the strong leadership in the area. She believes all of these factors create a very positive outlook for Pike County.

PMC has been an integral part of the county’s vaccine success, administering 42,571 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to date, with UPIKE nursing, medical school and optometry school students volunteering their time to assist in delivering vaccines since early this year. The hospital’s CEO Donovan Blackburn says PMC has been working closely with Governor Beshear and the Kentucky Department of Public Health to have the supply needed to vaccinate as many Eastern Kentucky residents as possible.

“The tremendous success we have been able to demonstrate statewide to Kentuckians has been made possible with the help of our partnership with the University of Pikeville, and it is essential to the area we both serve,” said Blackburn. “Together, we have a cooperative effort that will brighten the future of the entire region.”

UPIKE President Burton J. Webb, Ph.D., invited PMC to partner for a pop-up vaccine event on campus held Friday, April 9, where the Pfizer vaccine was administered to UPIKE students, faculty and staff. Another event will occur before the semester ends to deliver the second dose to help increase the percentage of students who have been vaccinated.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy has predicted that herd immunity against COVID can be reached when 70 percent of a community has been vaccinated, a threshold that UPIKE’s full-time employees crossed earlier this week. 

“Reaching the point at which coronavirus becomes difficult to spread in the community should be the goal we all strive to reach. This point, known by scientists as herd immunity, is important for our community and our region.” explained Webb. “We are proud to partner with both the Pikeville Medical Center and the Pike County Health Department to deploy vaccines on our campus and in the community. We can defeat this virus and return to normal if we all get vaccinated.”