By: Rohith Saravanan, MD, MBA, CPE
Chief Medical Officer
Odessa Regional Medical Center
First of all, we at ORMC want to extend our sincere gratitude and support to all the healthcare workers in the Permian basin and around the world who are doing their best caring for us through this COVID pandemic. We find ourselves facing this novel virus with little known information, not enough personal protective equipment, changing protocols every single day and no clear prediction of how fast and furiously it will affect our community. Your hospitals and your health department have been working closely together to prepare and keep you informed. Without these partnerships with each other and with public health and the CDC, we could not have made it this far and we will not get much further. All of us in the field of medicine and the public health community are united in our efforts and agree with this course of action.
This virus is unforgiving. It spreads before you even know you’ve caught it and it tricks you into believing that it’s nothing more than a little influenza. For many of us, it may be just a little flu so it can be very confusing when schools are closed, restaurants are closed and now this virus is taking what’s left of our precious liberty. The real problem is not the 80+ percent who will get over this in a week. It’s the smaller percent of patients, the older, those who are immunocompromised, those who have other medical problems who are going to need a bit more support, some oxygen or even a ventilator and life support. We do amazing things like this to save patients in our hospitals and across the world every single day, but we can’t take care of everyone at once.
Our healthcare system doesn’t have much slack. There are no empty wards waiting for patients or nurses waiting in the wings. PPE supplies are limited and there is no clear indication when we can expect more. Things are already tough at some hospitals across the country. There is no vaccine or readily available antiviral to help stem the tide. All we have to fight this infection as a community is social distancing. If we let every patient with this infection infect three more people and then each of them infects three people, we will easily overwhelm the healthcare system we have in place.
So, in my house, we’ve made a lot of sacrifices. We don’t go out anymore, except for groceries or medications. This isn’t the life any of us expected and certainly there are others who will make much greater sacrifices and there are more than a few disappointments to come, but this isn’t forever. It will last longer than any of us wants it to, but it will still just be a piece of our whole lives and we have to remember that.
The numbers you see today in the news are the people who got sick a week ago. And there are so many people who got sick today who don’t know they are sick yet. They picked up the virus and it'll take a week or two to show in our numbers. Waiting for hospitals to be overwhelmed will leave the following week’s patients with nowhere to go. In short, without taking drastic measures, we cannot contain this spread. We need to fight this fire before it grows too high.
But these restrictions may seem in the end a little extreme because it’s really hard to feel like you’re saving the world when you’re watching Netflix on your couch. But, if we do this right, nothing happens. Yes. A successful containment means that you will feel like it was all for nothing. And you would be right. Because “nothing” means that nothing happened to your family and that's what we are going for here.
Even starting now, we can’t stop the cases from coming fast and furious at least in the next couple of weeks. But with a real commitment to staying home and a whole lot of patience, we can help protect our critical workers who will be taking care of us if we get sick. We can give our factories time to ramp up their production of all that PPE so that we have enough masks to last. We can make more medications and learn more about how we can use them to help save more lives. It will take more than a couple of weeks to start seeing the rate being controlled, so please don't give up. I know we will get through this together and find a way back to the life that we used to live.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the short name for “coronavirus disease 2019.” It is a new virus. Recently, this virus has made a lot of people sick. Scientists and doctors are still learning about this virus, but think that most people will be ok, especially kids. Some people might get pretty sick and need to go to the hospital. Doctors and health experts are working hard to help people stay healthy.
What can I do so that I don’t get COVID-19?
You can practice healthy habits to help protect against the spread of COVID-19: Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow. If you sneeze or cough into a tissue, throw it in the trash right away. Keep your hands out of your mouth, nose, and eyes. This will help keep germs out of your body. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You can sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. If you don’t have soap and water, you can use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Keep things clean. Use sanitizing wipes to clean the things we touch the most like desks, doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls. If you feel sick, stay home.
What happens if we get sick with COVID-19?
COVID-19 can look different in different people. For many people, being sick with COVID-19 would be a little bit like having the flu. People can get a fever, cough, or have a hard time taking deep breaths. Most people who have gotten COVID-19 have not gotten very sick. Only a small group of people who get it have had more serious problems, needing hospitalization. From what doctors have seen so far, most children don’t seem to get very sick. While a lot of adults get sick, most adults get better. If you do get sick, it doesn’t mean you have COVID-19. People can get sick from all kinds of germs. What’s important to remember is that if you do get sick, there are things you can do to get better.
How do we treat COVID-19?
Most people who get sick with COVID-19 will have only mild illness and should recover at home. Drink a lot of fluids to stay hydrated and rest at home. Over-the-counter medicines may help with symptoms. For most people, symptoms last a few days and get better after a week. Monitor yourself for worsening symptoms. Know the emergency warning signs: Trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, bluish lips or face.
What can I do to help the community?
Stay home, as much as possible. Call to check on your neighbors, friends and loved ones, especially the frail and elderly. Offer to help those working in essential job functions. Order them food or groceries. Do not visit in person. Donate unused masks to your local hospital. Call them first. If you have sewing skills, consider making CDC compliant surgical masks for facilities in need. Compliant means that they are 2 layers of 100% cotton. You can find more details online.
What are some other things to consider?
Remember that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19. Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety. Some stories on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information. Try to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick. Get into a hand washing habit. Stay home as much as possible.