What’s Up Doc column: We’re back to square one with COVID-19
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
I’ve been deployed again with a disaster response strike team to help with the medical response to COVID-19. Hospitals across the country are being overwhelmed by COVID, and our team is one of several teams in the field trying to help out.
Q: What’s it like to be on the front lines?
A: It was just a few hours into my 12-hour overnight shift and I had already admitted four COVID patients. There would be several more to come later that evening. And only the very sick patients are admitted.
By the time you read this I will have worked 11 back-to-back 12- to 14-hour overnight shifts. My back hurts from the relentless hours and work, my nose hurts from the N95 respirator I wear the entire shift, and I am a bit tired. But all that is par for the course when working in the hospital during this pandemic. My coworkers are all in the same situation.
The medical community is frustrated by the ineptitude of our federal leadership, including the lack of leadership by example (for example having super-spreader events at the White House), denial of the pandemic (including questioning the benefits of simply having people wear a mask, and lying by saying “we have turned the corner”) and the refusal to listen to knowledgeable scientific experts (as opposed to listening to those sycophants willing to say whatever people in the White House want to hear).
This has predictably gotten us back to square one. Now we once again need to try to flatten the curve. Records are being set daily on the number of newly diagnosed patients and the number of hospitalized patients.
Sadly, it is likely we will soon be setting new daily records on the number of people dying from COVID. Without some real leadership soon, the present catastrophe will surely worsen, possibly to the point where hospitals are too full to accept more patients, and where limited resources will have to be rationed. It may be that we are already on an irreversible pathway to just that. And the shame is that although spread of the virus could not have been completely stopped, we could have avoided the present situation of essentially uncontrolled spread of the virus.
Even though our federal leadership continues to be poor, there are things we can all do as individuals to help:
• If you are able to, work from home.
• If you must go out (for example to an essential job, or to take care of necessary needs like buying food, etc.) maintain social distancing as much as possible and WEAR A DARN MASK.
• Unnecessary travel should be avoided.
• Support your local businesses (this is crucial for our economy), but do it by getting delivery or take away, not by being an in-person patron.
• Stop having large social gatherings. Thanksgiving is coming up; celebrate it virtually with your friends and family. Large family gatherings are a recipe for disaster, no matter how good the food recipes are.
• Wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.
• Clean/disinfect surfaces whenever there is a chance that they may have been contaminated.
• Cough/sneeze into the inside of your elbow (even though you will hopefully also have a mask on).
• And did I mention WEAR A DARN MASK?
Even if we cannot stop the spread of the virus, we can at least slow the spread down. This can flatten the curve, hence minimizing the negative ramifications of our hospitals being overwhelmed.
And remember, this is all to buy us time until a safe and efficacious vaccine becomes widely available. There have been several encouraging announcements of early results showing very high efficacy of certain candidate vaccines. Although the safety evaluations are not completed, there is good reason to be optimistic and hopeful. After widespread vaccination, and hence a large proportion of people being immune, we will have some realistic hope of things finally getting back to a more normal situation.
So PLEASE, keep doing your part to prevent the spread of the virus, and PLEASE get vaccinated as soon as a safe and efficacious vaccine becomes available.
Jeff Hersh, Ph.D., M.D., can be reached at DrHersh@juno.com.