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COVID-19 Impact on Georgia Latest Articles

May 1, 2020

How to Help Healthcare Workers on the Front Lines of COVID-19

How to Help Healthcare Workers on the Front Lines of COVID-19

Updated April 3, 2020; 4:40pm EST

Dara Kass, MD, is an emergency medicine doctor and associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early March. 

Sharecare spoke with Dr. Kass during her recovery about how we at home can support the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff treating COVID-19 patients. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: How can we at home best help healthcare workers on the front lines?
A: The most important thing you can do is stay home. 

If you want to send food to your local emergency room (ER) or donate to any of the organizations that are trying to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to front line workers, that's awesome. 

If you want to order food and then tip your delivery guy to keep the economy open as best as you can while we're getting through this, that's fine. 

But the most important thing individuals can do is help us keep our hospitals open and not congested. If you're having symptoms, use telemedicine. Understand how to stay home so that we can take care of everybody else. That's a national effort, because if we can actually have enough ventilators and intensive care unit (ICU) beds available for the patients that get sick, we will get through this.

Q: What's something going on in hospitals that people outside should know about?
A: Everyone is scared. This is a really fearful time. It's fearful for doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists. And we're doing the best we can to minimize our risk.

I think the most important thing people need to hear is that just because you can't see it, it doesn't mean it's not happening. What happens right now in our hospitals, in our ICUs—especially in New York City where I live—is not really for public consumption. We don't want everyone seeing this. It's not a movie. This is real life.

We are not prepared for this level of death and sickness in America. This is not what we do. We don't generally deal with this. It is affecting our communities that are at risk and it will affect them more. Our prisoners, our homeless populations—these are people who live in confined quarters that are ripe for the virus to spread.

My friends that work in inner city hospitals—who had strapped resources anyway—are seeing an escalation of symptoms and patients at a higher level than a lot of affluent hospitals. And so they are breaking at a faster rate than my friends that work in some suburban hospitals. 

It's not to say that it's not everywhere, but when you're a black woman physician taking care of patients that look like you, with strapped resources, and the media narrative coming from certain pundits and politicians is so disconnected from the fact that you intubated nine people in 9 hours—that is a really hard thing to survive day over day, and when it's still really early.

The thing that I want people to hear is: Trust us that this is happening even if you can't see it. Help us keep the hospitals open so that we can take care of patients.

Q: What are the best stories you hear coming out of hospitals? Do you see people pulling together?
A: I think this is the most American moment I've ever been in, in my life. There has been so much camaraderie amongst people on the ground, who otherwise were fighting before this, who had such different political beliefs or maybe came from different communities. The thing about a virus like this is it doesn't understand where you came from, it doesn't understand what language you spoke, it doesn't understand what state you live in, it doesn't care who your governor is. 

People are bringing their skills to whatever they can do, too, whether it's repurposing clothing factories to make masks, or whether it's watching teachers rally around the idea of digital learning for kids.

It’s also recognizing the worker who isn't recognized before, whether it's a sanitation worker or the janitorial staff or nurses or respiratory therapists or delivery people or cooks, or whatever. You realize that the bare bones of our economy and the bare bones of our society, there were all these helpers around that were otherwise lost for celebrities or for billionaires and affluent people. And watching them be the heroes of this moment is pretty remarkable. And everyone I know in this moment has been extraordinarily selfless. 

There's this idea that we should open the economy and get everyone out there because, “If it's going to kill me, it's going to kill me.” No, that's not the way we need to do this.

No doctor goes into the ER saying, "If I'm going to get this, I'm going to get it. If it's going to kill me, it's going to kill me." I went into the ER saying, "I might get it. I'm scared. I don't want to get it, but I'm still going to go in and take care of patients." 

And that level of altruism and belonging to a society is a really inspiring moment right now.