My husband has been an emergency physician for 30 years. During that time, I have seen him frustrated because of social problems he can’t solve or depressed from the bureaucracy that medicine has become. I have watched him wander through sleep-deprived days, burnt and crispy from shift work. But I have never seen him truly worried about going to work until the first Covid-19 case was diagnosed in Rhode Island, where we live and work.
Jay has been on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic. He has worked multiple shifts since it began. Curiously, neither he nor any of his front-line colleagues who show no symptoms have been tested for Covid-19, even though a team of Japanese researchers recently reported that approximately 30% of people infected with the novel coronavirus show no symptoms of Covid-19. Let that number sink in. It means that many of the patients my husband and other health care workers are in contact with who seem “fine” could be vectors for the coronavirus.
A few days ago, my husband’s hospital group told health care workers that they had to wear a single mask for two days. Later they were told to wear their masks until they get soiled or become unusable. There are shortages of tests, gloves, gowns, synthetic swabs, assay chemicals, and masks.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the director of Rhode Island’s Department of Health, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, said “We have the supply of personal protective equipment we need for our health care providers right now.”
No, Dr. Scott, you don’t. If the largest hospital system in the state is telling its staff to wear masks until they become soiled or no longer functional, that is not “enough.”
My bet is that Rhode Island isn’t alone in giving health care workers the equipment they need to diagnose and treat their patients — and stay safe while doing so.
How many Covid-19 vectors are walking around feeling fine right now, both in and out of the health care system? We just don’t know because of the testing kit debacle and the extremely narrow criteria to get tested.
The published numbers don’t come close to representing the truth because we’re only testing a tiny fraction of the population. The Wall Street Journal reported that South Korea is testing 20,000 people a day. By comparison, the U.S. took 10 days to reach that number. There are currently over 330 million people living in the U.S. As I write this on March 20, 111,638 have been tested for Covid-19. That is 0.03% of the population.
Administrations at every level have failed our health care responders. Alexander-Scott said on March 18 that she was working very hard to get access to Rhode Island’s “stockpile of personal protective equipment” and that she “believed” they were going to be able to do that. She also said the state has its own reserves of protective equipment. Where is this equipment? Why is it being held in reserve? What bureaucracy is holding it up? Get it to the hospitals. Now.
The Department of Defense said on March 19 that it will release 2,000 ventilators and 5 million N95 masks from military reserves, though only 1 million masks will be available immediately. I don’t understand why, if we’ve had this equipment all along, it hasn’t been utilized. And how long will it take to get these supplies to the people who need them?
President Trump and the Department of Defense would never think of sending a soldier into war without a helmet and a weapon, but they didn’t seem to have a problem sending our first responders into the Covid-19 pandemic without enough personal protective equipment.
It’s good that the administration finally believes this pandemic is real, but its promises, prayers and “deep appreciation” for our health care providers isn’t enough. Panic doesn’t help in any situation, but a little outrage never hurt.
Jennifer Hushion is a certified financial planner who lives with her son and husband in Cranston, R.I.