WASHINGTON – In the past two weeks, the US has seen a spike in coronavirus cases and, according to a Reuters tally, has now passed both Italy and China, becoming the nation with the largest number of confirmed cases. Even when taking into account that the numbers reported by the Chinese government can’t be trusted, the US is still currently facing the most rapid spread of the virus anywhere on earth.
But while the outbreak in China was mostly in one province, the US is now seeing multiple “hot spots” of the outbreak in New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, and Florida. Is the US about to face the same grim reality that doctors in Lombardy have been struggling with this past month?
“We have way too many patients and not enough resources to deal with the influx that is coming in,” a doctor at NYU Bellevue hospital who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive details told The Jerusalem Post. “We are not set up correctly for this crisis. We don’t have enough protective equipment for ourselves. There’s currently not enough ventilators, even though the state [of New York] and the [federal] government are saying that they’re coming soon. And it’s creating a very, very big problem and a significant stressor on us,” the doctor said.
Speaking about the shortage of ventilators, the doctor said that currently, every patient who needed a ventilator received one. “But we are witnessing things in Italy and in Spain where they have to choose between patients,” the doctor added. “And if we try to project forward with the number of patients we see that is exponentially getting worse, and the patients are sicker, then within days to weeks we can imagine not having enough ventilators for patients.
“I don’t know the ins and outs of the healthcare system in Italy, but I think we are in the situation we are because people are saying this will not happen to us, and this can never happen to us,” the doctor continued. “But at the end of the day, day in and day out, when we go to the hospital, we see that this is definitely not the case. The lack of planning ahead [that] caused the lack of resources.
“If on a government level or a management level, we planned appropriately when we saw things in other countries, we might not be in this situation we are today,” the doctor added.
In addition to being healthcare workers at hospitals where they take care of patients, doctors are also people with families at home, and are scared that they will get sick and that their loved ones will get sick, the doctor told the Post. “We have people that have removed themselves from their families entirely just in case they get the virus, and they don’t want to infect their family. It’s a very scary situation for everyone. We do the best we can, but there’s a lot of unknown.”
According to the doctor, “The whole infrastructure of the hospital has changed in terms of how many floors are now serving as intensive care units and how many different physicians seeing certain patients. We are not at a maximum level at this point, and I hope we don’t get there. But, it keeps on increasing.”
Asked if New York is on track to witness the same pictures we have seen in Italy, the doctor said: “It depends obviously on the measures we take and how we handle this. And the hope is to be able to stop it and not get there.”
Health care experts who spoke with the Post also agreed that the US faces a grim reality. “Even under the best scenario, we are likely to surpass Italy very quickly, Prof. Semra Aytur, Public Health Policy expert from the University of New Hampshire, told the Post. “Unfortunately, there were some mistakes made early on with the inability to test enough people and also the failure of deploying medical equipment where our healthcare workers are going to have consequences that will last for quite a while,” she said.
“The timeline is very hard to predict,” Aytur remarked. “We’re going to have to deal with both playing catch up on the mistakes that were made earlier and at the same time that we try to continue with social distancing.”
“I think the next two or three weeks are going to be the hardest,” she said. “New York state already is witnessing the tragic consequence of that. There are not enough respirators; there are not enough protective equipment for healthcare workers to even keep themselves safe, nor are there enough beds.”
According to Aytur, “We can’t forget that even as bad as coronavirus is, people still have heart attacks, and they still have cancer or a car accident and require care too. So we already have the inability to have the hospitals in places where there has been such a massive exponential influx of cases to deal with.”
One question that is yet to be seen is how the outbreak could affect the country given that different areas have different numbers of cases. “I think the US is going to be somewhat dependent on time and geography in terms of how closely it aligns with Italy or not,” she said. “Unfortunately, I think we can already see that parts of New York City are not that different from what Italy has experienced. There already are healthcare workers in New York reporting some of the same, very, very difficult and sad choices that they’re having to make that the doctors from Italy have told us about. That’s a place that was caught very quickly before we could mobilize any kind of protection for the healthcare workforce.”
“On the other hand,” she continued, “I think even the states that have a relatively robust healthcare system on a state-wide basis, like California, they’re trying very hard to get things in place so that they’re a little more prepared. We have very, very different state-wide and regional systems in the United States, both socially and economically that will make this play out differently.”
Reuters contributed to this report.