Working as a medical practitioner in a local Emergency Room puts me in a unique position on the front line of this terrible pandemic. I’m not an expert on COVID-19, but I don’t believe anybody is at this point. I can only share my experiences and my clinical knowledge.
I feel it’s important to establish a few facts. First, we don’t know much about this disease because it is brand new. We don’t know exactly how it is transmitted and we have no vaccine or proven treatment. True, there are experimental treatments you may have heard about, but they have not been proven to help, and they are potentially harmful as well.
The government has set guidelines for social distancing which seems to be the only sure way to avoid transmission, but they’ve allowed exceptions for grocery, doctor visits, etc. Just to be clear: this does not mean that going to the grocery is safe and will not transmit the disease, it just means that they understand and allow for necessities. In my mind, every time we walk out of our house and get near other people (the six feet away is merely a suggestion and is not likely to be sufficient based on how contagious this is) we take a very big risk of contracting this disease.
I feel that many people underestimate this disease (some in the medical community as well). What I am seeing every day tells me that this disease is something to be respected and feared. It is both highly contagious, and very dangerous. Though some people have mild flu-like symptoms, there are many who get very sick. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are young and healthy and have no medical problems, don’t smoke, and exercise, etc. That is usually the case for most viruses such as the flu, but COVID-19 is not like that. Yes, people with underlying disease are at higher risk, as do elderly, but even young, healthy people are getting very sick. I also personally know many doctors and healthcare workers who are currently sick. In case you’re not convinced by the horrific list of names that keeps generating on public forums, let me give you an example of what I am seeing here in the ED. We admitted a young patient with no medical history, with progressing shortness of breath and a bad pneumonia. I had another fairly young man who is still hospitalized with a bad pneumonia, currently on oxygen. Two more older individuals were admitted with severe pneumonias. We had several patients who required intubation and now have ventilators breathing for them. These patients are often having typical flu symptoms for a week, then very quickly decompensating and getting very sick. The pneumonias that are typical with COVID-19 are usually bilateral (both sides), and can get very large, very fast, which makes breathing very difficult. If these patients are not treated aggressively, they can progress to full respiratory failure, and require intubation. B”H they are all getting good medical treatment thanks to hardworking hospital workers, but they are sick.
My purpose here is not to panic anyone. It is to give you more information from someone who is seeing the more severe aspects firsthand. Don’t take it lightly. Even if you’re young, you can get very sick, or you could give it to a relative, friend, or another human being, who may not fare as well as you.
I have also recently heard a very disturbing piece of information: that some people who have had symptoms and are beginning to recover have lifted restrictions off themselves, with the assumption that they are immune and can go back to regular life – do their family shopping, congregate for minyanim, or go to parents for Pesach. This is completely irresponsible and I believe they are putting every single person they come near at serious risk of illness and possibly death . To me it would be safer to stick their family and friends with HIV infected needles which carry only 1 in 300 risk of transmission. Their behavior carries MUCH higher risk. Even if they have NO symptoms anymore, this is a new virus and we don’t know how long it can still be transmitted. Behavior like this will continue to spread the virus and there will be RCHM”N more names on the Tehilim and Baruch Dayan Emes lists.
Knowing what I know, I impress upon my own family to try not to step out of the door unless absolutely necessary, and if so, keep far away from others, use a mask, wash hands thoroughly, and keep the exposure brief. This is the best chance we have to avoid contracting this dangerous disease. My family has been ordering our food or supplies for delivery, and not going anywhere public at all, even to stores that remain open.
Just to reiterate, this is all my personal opinions and experiences, and I’m not speaking on behalf of anyone else, but from many other clinicians I have spoken with, many have a similar attitude regarding this terrible crisis. Therefore, I urge you, please follow the guidance of your state and local leaders. Stay home as much as you can. Make use of online shopping and curbside pickup . Use face-masks, wash your hands often. Skip the family visits, especially with grandparents and vulnerable populations. We want to stop the spread of the disease quickly so we can all go back to work.
I hope that there is a quick resolution, and that the morbidity and mortality stop quickly, but until then, please treat this as a very serious threat, and take every precaution to keep yourselves, your family, and our communities safe.
An anonymous medical practitioner from the Lakewood community.