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The Coronavirus Response Through the Eyes of a Doctor

March 18, 2020

By Dr. William Horgan
Hartford HealthCare
Regional Medical Director of Quality & Safety
Backus Hospital/Windham Hospital

Many people are upset because professional and college sports or their child’s sporting events have been postponed or canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many people feel like we’re overreacting in the United States. They feel that this is politically driven or that it’s being driven by the media. We should put those misperceptions to rest. The reason we’re responding this way is because of two things: capacity and the capability of dealing with those who become sick.

In the United States, we basically have about 100,000 ICU (intensive-care unit) beds. On any given day, 65,000 of those beds are filled with patients under our care. So it leaves us with 35,000 ICU beds a day to deal with additional patients — that’s our trauma patients as well as our critically ill patients who need care after having a stroke or a heart attack or have been dealing with cancer.

So right now we have our typical seasonal outbreak of influenza, or flu. Influenza is  a deadly virus we don’t want to downplay, but every year we’re used to dealing with a large outbreak in the United States.

We plan for it. We really push everybody to get vaccinated and practice appropriate hand hygiene as we watch influenza outbreaks throughout the world as it spreads toward the United States.

Now we’re dealing with something like COVID-19, which is spreading rapidly. It’s putting incredible stress and strain on our healthcare system, making it difficult for us to care for those in our communities.

Can we deal with COVID-19? We absolutely can deal with it. Can we deal with 1 million cases within a one-minute period in the United States? Probably not.

That would stretch to the limit our capability and our capacity to deliver care. If we have that 1 million cases over a four-month period of time, yes, we should be able to deal with it. That’s why we’re really enforcing strict restrictions of travel and mass gatherings. That’s why we don’t want large volumes of people getting exposed to the virus, who then expose other people and get more and more people sick.

If you look at the different responses from Italy in Korea, just in the past couple of months, it’s amazing. Korea was very strict regarding travel and mass gatherings, so they have been able to keep up with the volume of cases of patients who have been ill.

Italy didn’t do that. They were much later to the game with restrictions, so they have had a great deal of difficulty caring for every patient, so they’ve had to restrict the amount of care.

There are only so many ICU beds that you have for these patients. Unfortunately, some patients will be able breath using a ventilator and for others the Italian doctors have to try other things. That’s where we don’t want to be.

We want to be able to care for those in our community who need it and we want to be able to provide the adequate care that they need. That’s why we’re responding the way we’re responding.

This is not political. It’s not being driven by the media. It’s not financial. It’s being able to care for those in our community.

Dr. William Horgan is the Hartford HealthCare Regional Medical Director of Quality & Safety at Backus and Windham Hospitals.

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