During these uncertain times, I would like to offer the best advice we have about how we can all get through the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. First, the COVID-19 threat is real. Take it seriously. In my more than three decades of working as a caregiver, I have never seen anything like it and hope never to again.
I’ll share my answers to the top four questions I’ve been getting on a daily basis:
How can I protect myself and my family? The best way to protect your friends and family is by protecting yourself. It appears that the infection is primarily spread by asymptomatic (no fever, cough, sore throat or runny nose) persons, especially children. That means we must act is if everyone we encounter is carrying the infection. If an asymptomatic carrier touches a surface and then you touch that same surface, you will have the virus on your hand. And if you then touch your face, transmission occurs. LEARN TO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE. This may be the single biggest thing you can do to prevent getting the virus and spreading it to others.
“What should I do if I have a fever, cough, sore throat or runny nose?” The answer is simple: STAY HOME, drink lots of fluids and separate yourself from others. In general, people with cough, fever, sore throat or runny nose (flu-like symptoms) do not have coronavirus and will not be tested for coronavirus if they come to the Emergency Department. The few exceptions are persons who have shortness of breath, a low oxygen level, are on dialysis, or have recently traveled to a country with a high prevalence of COVID-19.
“How can I get a test?” We have very limited testing capability, and we need to reserve those tests for patients sick enough to be hospitalized. This should change soon. If you have shortness of breath, go to the nearest Emergency Department. Most of the respiratory tract infections we are seeing right now are not coronavirus. Medical guidance is changing rapidly and may depend on your particular medical situation, so please check with your primary care doctor.
“How can I help you (health care providers) through this?” My main worry is the burden this puts on our health care system and our health care workers who already work tirelessly for our patients. Right now, we desperately need N-95 masks, including non-medical grade masks used in construction, to help protect our front-line caregivers who are caring for patients with suspected COVID-19. I know it is hard to give them up right now, but your hospitals need them.
And I’m worried about the financial toll this could take on a safety net health system like ours. While we are financially stable right now, having to cancel revenue-generating services (outpatient care, elective surgeries and the like) for the long term will have a dramatic impact. Together with CEOs of other safety net systems, I am advocating for additional state and federal funding that will help us get through this crisis.
To help us get through this challenging situation, we have set up a special relief fund, the UMass Memorial COVID-19 Response Fund. We’ve already received several generous donations from local community organizations. If you are interested in joining these organizations to provide financial support to UMass Memorial Health Care, please consider making a donation to this special relief fund through our website or by contacting Martin Richman, Senior Director, UMass Memorial Office of Philanthropy, at Martin.Richman@umassmemorial.org. We promise to put your donation to work immediately for our patients, caregivers and the communities we serve each and every day.
My final piece of advice is to stay positive. Stress is bad for the immune system. If you need help coping with the stress of this unprecedented situation, there are resources available to you, such as the UMass Memorial Center for Mindfulness .
With your help and support, we will get through this! Stay safe and well.
Eric W. Dickson, MD, MHCM, FACEP
President and CEO, UMass Memorial Health Care