Epidemics come and go, each with its own unique version of the same story- a panicky start, followed by a rational response, and finally a fadeaway as the crisis recedes into the background of our lives.
I was a medical student and resident when HIV exploded, back when contracting the virus was a death sentence and a decade before AIDS became treatable. Though many physicians rose to the challenge of caring for these patients, not all did, which raised key questions about our profession’s commitment to caring for vulnerable patients. Thankfully, those questions have been answered.
Acute viral infections raise similar questions of professional commitment, particularly when we’re asked to put our lives on the line for patients with deadly diseases like SARS, Ebola, and severe strains of influenza. My great uncle Isadore* died during the 1918 pandemic. I don’t know much about the circumstances, though I know he was a medical student at Bellevue. His legacy left me with a sobering appreciation for the risk we assume when we choose to become physicians.
I don’t pretend to know what lies ahead for us as COVID-19 worms its way into Connecticut, though I do know that we’re ready to face the threat at Yale. We have explicit plans to isolate and test those at risk for the virus, to care for those who fall ill, to protect colleagues working on the front lines, and to step up to help if others can’t. We have exceptional local expertise to guide us and immensely talented, committed staff.
In the days ahead, recommendations for testing and treatment will likely evolve, so please pay attention to updates sent out by the hospital and medical school. Other reliable sources of information include the CDC and WHO as well as the NEJM, ACP, and JAMA. Though some recommendations may change as we learn more about the virus, the following will stay true:
- Wash your hands often
- Try not to touch your face (to avoid inoculating yourself)
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) consistently and don’t contaminate yourself when you’re through.
- Consider COVID-19 in any patient with cough and fever and watch for up-to-date plans for screening and testing.
- Don’t come to work if you’re sick. Call the Chiefs and we’ll cover you.
- If you’re told to stay home because of illness or exposure, stay home. You don’t want to infect others.
- Check your email regularly for updates from the hospital and department. New information is emerging every day.
- Prepare to help your colleagues. If the infection becomes widespread, we may exhaust our usual backup pool and need to create special coverage plans.
- If you have personal concerns about your vulnerability to the infection and ability to work, please let us know so we can collaborate on a plan.
- Stay well, now more than ever. Eat, sleep, exercise, and support each other.
I’m sure in the days ahead we will hear more about policies relating to travel and conferences, as well as emerging plans for patient care and staffing. I know our residency will rise to the challenge as we always do, with expertise, dedication, and compassion. I know you’ll make us proud and support one another until this crisis, like all crises, recedes into the background.
COVID-19 is no match for this team.
With that, it’s off to the hospital.