As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, so must our response. In this evolving situation, physicians and other members of the health care community are fighting the pandemic amid heightened risk to their own well-being.
At a time when some suggest easing restrictions on physical distancing to stave off further economic damage, it’s critical we maintain those protections in place. The best long-term strategy to enable economic recovery is to first stop the spread of the virus.
Health experts warn that removing physical distancing and shelter-in-place requirements after 15 days, and encouraging people to return to work and their normal routines, would severely hamper the ability of physicians, nurses and others on the front lines to prevent this pandemic from completely overwhelming our hospitals, emergency departments and our health system.
We cannot forgo the hard work required to fully recover from this crisis.
The AMA remains your powerful ally in this urgent moment by:
- Providing evidence-based information and trusted guidance to those leading the fight against the virus.
- Identifying and helping to overcome the challenges physicians face in treating COVID-19 patients.
- Working to ensure that government agencies and other entities meet the need for personal protective equipment, test kits, and all the other medical gear and supplies needed to overcome this unprecedented threat.
By now, it is clear that the heroic response of our nation’s medical community continues to be unnecessarily restrained by woefully inadequate supplies of even the most basic medical equipment and protective gear. This situation is unacceptable.
The AMA is committed to a vigorous, all-hands-on-deck approach to this crisis that places the proper amount of protective gear, test kits and other badly needed resources directly into the hands of physicians and other health professionals on the front lines. I argued forcefully for this in my recent conversation with President Trump, and I continue to make this point in the media, and to anyone who will listen.
The immediate need for additional personal protective equipment (PPE) cannot be overstated. Physicians are pleading for additional masks, gowns, gloves and other gear to help protect themselves and their families. Group care facilities for the elderly are at the epicenter of danger, as many now lack protective masks for their nursing staff as they treat the most vulnerable among us.
Physicians report that existing supplies of PPE are being rapidly depleted, to the point where reserves may run out in a matter of days. Physicians are reusing masks, sewing masks at home, and being asked to use bandanas.
Again, this is wholly unacceptable. PPE shortages severely threaten the ability to treat COVID-19 patients and contain the spread of the virus, while posing a serious risk to the health and safety of our health care workforce. And if we lose our physicians and nurses to illness, we lose our best defense against the further spread of this disease—and who knows how many lives.
Not just PPE
The need for additional hospital equipment, particularly ventilators, represents another front in the battle against COVID-19. We are pleased to learn that the leading U.S. automakers have indicated their committed to producing ventilators instead of vehicles in the short term. Even so, design and plant retooling will take weeks, if not months—so collaborative ventures between the carmakers and existing ventilator manufacturers may offer the best solution.
As a nation in crisis, our best path forward will combine strong governmental leadership that overcomes supply shortages with a responsible citizenry that, at least for the immediate future, accepts the need to stay at home whenever possible and practices physical distancing when they leave. The guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are widely available, and it is encouraging to see so many people adopt them.
Everyone must do their part to ensure that physicians and health care providers have all the tools they need to turn the tide in this epidemic. How soon that happens depends on our collective response now and in the days ahead.