Sorry for the lack of posts or updates on this blog for a very long time. As you may already know (if you didn’t, now you do), I’m not a full time blogger or photographer, so every time there is a crisis at work, my blog posts start to become few and far between.
With that being said, I thought it was important for me to write this post relating my experience with COVID-19 in my workplace.
As a medical practice administrator/coordinator, I oversee day to day operations at certain primary care facilities in Texas. One of those clinics happens to be my dad’s in Odessa out in West Texas. It’s not really a place you would expect to be affected by a virus from Wuhan, China, then again it seems like no one expected that it would affect any city on our continent.
I never anticipated that the virus would hit so close to home. Since the start of this crisis, our practice has seen 6 employees and 1 patient test positive for COVID-19. We sadly lost one of our youngest employees (a 32 year old phlebotomist) to the virus just two weeks ago. I can’t tell you how devastating it is to learn that someone you know has succumbed to this pandemic. It’s absolutely surreal to know that they won’t be there the next time you go to work.
When the crisis first seemingly reached our doorstep, both my dad and I were away from work taking care of my grandfather since he was going through a rough patch in his recovery from chemotherapy. So at no point were we exposed to the employee (or patient zero) who seemingly brought this virus to our clinic.
I thought I would relate our story in the form of a timeline to simplify this story a bit and tell you how we prepared and what happened.
First Week of March: At a time when hospitals in the area weren’t even recommending their employees use PPE, we mandated the use of surgical masks when caring for patients (N95 Masks aren’t available for physician offices). Sick employees were asked to stay at home
March 18: Seeing that the crisis was deepening fast across Texas, we had our practice start checking employee temperatures and travel histories before work.
March 19: Despite all these precautions, we had the feeling that we weren’t doing enough to protect our employees from harm. So we closed our practice to all patients, well before the first case of COVID-19 in our county. We were the first to do so in the area.
March 27: One of our employees tests positive for COVID-19. This person had already been in the hospital for more than a week. Unfortunately, she had not informed us of her recent travel history or extracurricular work at an urgent care clinic. This seemed to be our patient zero.
We immediately asked all of our employees in the office to begin self isolating at home, while we began contact tracing. Employees who showed symptoms (dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath) were asked to go to the hospital and/or get tested ASAP.
March 30: State Health Department contacted our practice to find out who had been exposed. (Neither my dad or I were exposed because we had been home taking care of my grandfather)
Between March 30-April 12: Four more employees test positive, and two are admitted to the hospital for ventilator support. All remaining employees continue to isolate at home.
April 30: A month after the first employee tested positive, all COVID positive employees are discharged and/or have recovered.
It is unreal how fast the crisis escalated in our instance. Despite all of our early precautions and social isolation measures, COVID-19 still managed to rear its ugly head. We lost one dear soul to the virus and at least 2 others went on ventilator support. If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud, a grim solace to our grief, it is that our proactive measures helped contain the outbreak. By taking proactive measures, we were able to limit the cluster to our clinic’s staff.
If we hadn’t closed the clinic when we did, this outbreak could have easily spread through our patient population and the rest of the town. To date, of our patient population of more than 4,000+, only one patient (outside our staff) has tested positive for COVID-19. That patient has since recovered.
On an even more personal note:
While all of this was happening, we were dealing with another crisis. My grandfather had developed some delayed cytotoxicity from chemotherapy, which resulted in a serious GI bleed. Perfect timing right?!
Going to a hospital or clinic for any procedure with an immunocompromised patient is scary under normal circumstances, so you can imagine what it’s like in the middle of a pandemic. It’s an absolutely surreal experience donning a face mask, gloves, and protective eyewear every time we head out. Because no family member is allowed past the front door for fear of COVID-19 transmission, the worst is that you never know what will happen once he walks in through that door or whether you will see him again.
My grandfather is fortunately doing better now thanks to the wonderful physicians who have taken care of him both at home (my dad) and at the hospital. But I shudder to think what it is like for many others diagnosed with cancer during this time or of course COVID-19.
I’m not one to write personal articles very often outside of travel. But I thought this warranted a post given the grave circumstances.
I beg everyone to take COVID-19 seriously. No trip to a restaurant or stroll in the park is worth any of your lives. This virus does not discriminate who it infects, both the young and the elderly are dying.
Even as more than 70,000 of our fellow Americans have died, the lack of social distancing discipline or mask usage astounds me. I would like to think we (as Americans) are better people than that. We should all realize that we have reached a new normal here. We must simply accept that this virus is here to stay and take our social responsibilities seriously.
It is 100% true that local businesses and employees deserve our support. But when you do go out, wear a mask (as recommended by the CDC). Think of each person you meet as possibly interacting with 10 others and they in turn interacting with 100 others and 1000 others. One infection can exponentially rise and create a hotspot:
Forget hotspot, you don’t know how many of the people you’ve met have elderly or immunocompromised people living at their home, who could potentially die. Do you want to be responsible for starting the next outbreak or hotspot? Do you want to be the one responsible for the death of a mother, father, sister, or grandparent? Wear a mask! And show some respect to the sacrifices people are making so that we may open society once again.
If you are doubting the usage of a mask in public settings, have a look at this very informative video on the topic. Fashion is a small price to pay, when you are saving lives.