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Coronavirus: NYC doctors warn of crippling workload in the new Covid-19 epicentre

Hospital staff in the hardest hit US city say they are facing severe shortages of PPE and worry about contracting the novel virus

Chris Riotta
New York
Wednesday 25 March 2020 20:01 GMT
New York governor Andrew Cuomo says the state's Covid-19 cases is 'spiking'

Doctors and hospital staff in New York City have found themselves at the epicentre of an unfolding crisis over coronavirus, as Covid-19 patients inundate emergency rooms throughout the city most impacted by the pandemic.

With at least 30,811 confirmed cases in the state of New York, over 17,000 city residents have tested positive for the novel virus that so far has a death rate of nearly 1.2 per cent in the US.

As hospitals across the country warn they are near-capacity amid an influx of Covid-19 patients, health officials say the current state of medical facilities in New York City foreshadow what emergency rooms across the country will look like in just a matter of weeks, as the virus continues to spread.

Dr Jolion McGreevy, medical director of The Mount Sinai Hospital emergency department, said patients have recently begun showing up to the ER with some of the most severe symptoms associated with Covid-19, including major respiratory complications and pneumonia.

“These are people in severe respiratory distress, needing to be intubated and needing the intensive care unit,” he said in an interview with Associated Press. “We knew it was coming. We saw it in Italy and other places so we were prepared for it, and now we’re seeing it.”

The doctor described dealing with the coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks as a “month of full force” that has been “certainly very stressful”, adding: “You’re on 100 per cent of the time — no matter what.”

Other doctors in New York City have shared desperate pleas warning residents to stay at home in order to help flatten the curve by slowing the spread of transmissions, so hospitals can stay within capacity as health care workers deal with the surge of new patients.

“There is a cacophony of coughing,” Craig Spencer, director of global health in emergency medicine at Columbia Medicine, said in a viral Twitter thread about what it’s like working on the front lines of the pandemic.

The doctor shared a personal look at what his average day has been inside the New York City emergency room since the start of the outbreak, writing: “Nearly every patient is the same, young [and] old. Cough, shortness of breath, fever.”

He described a near-crippling level of work doctors have been forced to perform each day in the face of the outbreak, while having difficult conversations with patients about their symptoms, including one example in which he had to tell a female Covid-19 patient and her family over the phone that it was “best to put her on life support now, before things get much worse”.

“Two patients, in rooms right next to each other, both getting a breathing tube,” he wrote. “It’s not even 10am yet.”

Dr Eric Cioe-Pena, director of global health at Northwell Health, said doctors in New York have “ventured into a battle” while treating Covid-19 patients, telling the AP he’s nervous about the potential for medical staff to contract the virus.

"The more we hear about doctors and nurses getting sick, the more we get nervous," he said. "It's definitely on the mind of every health care worker in America. We don't want to be in a position where we're making decisions based on resources rather than the clinical care of patients."

Doctors across the country have meanwhile posted online seeking donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) like medical-grade face masks as hospitals run dangerously low on the life-saving supplies.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a news conference this week “the apex” of the virus could hit the state “in as little as 14 to 21 days”, adding: “You’re talking about a very significant logistical operational movement to increase that number of hospital beds and do everything that you need to do related to the increased hospital beds.”

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