As many cities in the United States brace themselves for coronavirus hospitalizations to peak in the coming days and weeks, hospitals already running at or near capacity are preparing for an influx of new patients. Natasha S. Hochberg, MD, MPH, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo News that hard choices are ahead.
NATASHA HOCHBERG: I think, in terms of changes over the next two weeks within the hospitals, it requires attention to anticipated numbers. Hospitals around the country, if they're not already experiencing it, will be experiencing shortages. And those are shortages of beds, of ventilators, of personal protective equipment, of medications.
And so each hospital is coming up with their own strategy. Some of those include really innovative ways to reuse personal protective equipment. So for example, the N95 masks-- people are exploring different ways to decontaminate those. And so that could be effective.
We are also reaching a point where hospitals are creating committees to think about, how do you allocate resources when they're limited? And so, unfortunately, we might reach a situation where we say, there's only X number of ventilators. And who gets those ventilators if we have more people that need them than we have ventilators available?
What hospitals are doing is they're removing those ethical decisions from an individual provider. It's very hard for one doctor to tell a patient, we can't give you the medicine, or we can't give you a ventilator, because we don't have it available. So hospitals are, in general, removing those decisions from one provider. And they're making boards or groups of physicians and other providers that help make those decisions.
From a personal level, it's really difficult. The providers, nurses, doctors, any staff within the hospital are really stretched thin. And we're dealing with a level of illness that most of us have never seen in our lives. And so it's both difficult, and at the same time, it's been an amazing time, because we're seeing incredible levels of collaboration and people working really hard for a sort of unified cause.
If people have concerns about whether or not they should go to the hospital-- if it's not an emergency, it definitely is worthwhile to call your doctor and have a conversation about your symptoms. If it is an emergency-- obviously, if you're having a heart attack or you have symptoms related to a stroke or it's something that really needs emergent care, you need to go to the emergency room.
But we do want to urge people not to go to the emergency room unless they are having an emergency, because we want to restrict their exposure to people with COVID. And we also want to not create additional burden for the emergency rooms, because they are flooded at this point.