As an ophthalmologist, I have the privilege of taking care of many elderly patients. Several of those patients have repeated the same phrase to me these past few weeks, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” It is a profound thing to hear from someone who has lived through multiple wars and other crises over their lifetime. It is a strange to time be a physician and a frustrating time to be a patient. Many patients have had to reschedule their in-person routine appointments or delay their elective procedures. The state has loosened restrictions on elective procedures, and providers across the state are planning out how to safely open their clinics and operating rooms to more patients. I think I speak for all physicians when I say we miss our patients and we hope to see you soon.
For now, however, it is important to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19. Our collective efforts to “flatten the curve” appear to be working. Updated models are now predicting fewer deaths and fewer hospitalizations than originally predicted. This is great news, but we still must be careful as these models are based on strict adherence to social distancing. If we return to our normal routine too quickly, we will cause a spike in new COVID-19 patients.
There continue to be patients in need of urgent treatment and those who must be tested and treated for COVID-19. As a result, a lot of health care workers can’t stay home. Unfortunately, nearly a quarter of new COVID-19 cases in Iowa are health care workers. If we’re sick, we can’t take care of you and your family. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, face shields, gowns, and gloves are essential to keeping both providers and their patients safe. The state has now issued two shortage orders on PPE. That means we are being asked to use PPE beyond its recommended use because Iowa, like the rest of the country, continues to have dangerously low supply.
This lack of protective equipment is one reason why many elective medical procedures still aren’t being performed even though the ban has been partially lifted. We need to conserve this equipment for health care workers on the front lines. This is also an important reason to continue to stay home. People of all ages are getting sick. Even if you are young, healthy, and willing to take your chances on getting infected, you could spread the virus to others and increase the number of people who need medical care. Estimates are that up to 50% of people who have coronavirus do not have any symptoms, and people can be contagious before they even have symptoms. Aside from putting others in danger, not staying home risks further depleting health care resources, which includes equipment and our health care workers.
As providers begin to see more patients and start performing more procedures over the next few weeks, patients and guests will continue to see restrictions in place to keep our facilities, staff, and patients safe. You may be asked to wait in your car instead of the waiting room. Your guests may be required to wait in their car. You may need to be tested for coronavirus before having surgery. All of these measures are being put into place for your safety.
Many of us have a friend or family member who works at a hospital or a clinic. Most of us see a physician or other provider we trust and respect. You can protect these individuals by simply staying at home. Limit yourself to essential errands only and avoid in-person gatherings of any size. Wear a cloth mask for your essential errands to help prevent you from unknowingly spreading the virus to others. Take advantage of delivery or curbside pickup. These handy services help their essential employees stay healthy as well. Remember to continue to follow social distancing guidelines when you’re enjoying fresh air outdoors. Take care of your physical and mental health, and keep washing those hands. We know the changes to our routines are inconvenient and difficult, but they are necessary to save lives and lessen the strain on our health care system. Do Your Part. Stay Healthy. Stay Home. Doctor’s Orders.
Dr. Brian Privett, MD, is an ophthalmologist from Cedar Rapids. He was recently installed as the 171st president of the Iowa Medical Society, the largest, statewide physician membership organization in Iowa.