‘I’m on the front lines and I can tell you that we’re not at our peak yet’

This week President Trump said he’d like to reopen the economy by Easter, which is April 12. Since then the debate has raged over whether the country can afford to go back to work after two weeks of lockdown in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. 

Many in the health professional community insist the country is not prepared for the surge in hospital visits should hotspots like New York City allow people to return to normal life. There are at least 68,500 coronavirus cases in the U.S. The death toll has jumped to at least 990. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced 37,258 cases, up 6,448. The death toll jumped by more than 100 overnight to 385 (as of March 26).

“At this point I feel like we’re not at our peak yet,” Dr. Tamara Moise told Yahoo Finance. She is both an emergency room doctor at Brookdale University Medical Center in Brooklyn and the owner of Big Apple Urgent Care.

“To say that everything is going to be okay or a lot better by Easter, from this doctor’s standpoint, I do not see that right now,” she said. “Because our numbers are just climbing. We are not in a situation where the numbers are starting to go down a little bit. We’re not there. We have a long way to go.”

Healthcare workers are not blind to the massive financial toll being felt by millions of workers who are losing jobs and businesses forced to shut down. The latest evidence of the financial wreckage: New unemployment claims surged to a record high last week, topping 3 million.

A patient wears a protective face mask as she is loaded into an ambulance at The Brooklyn Hospital Center emergency room, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in New York. Anticipating a spike in coronavirus patients, New York City-area hospitals are clearing out beds, setting up new spaces to triage patients and urging people with mild symptoms to consult health professionals by phone or video chat instead of flooding emergency rooms that could be overrun. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Moise is in the unique position of being both a small business owner who founded an urgent care business two years ago and an emergency room doctor who works regular shifts at the hospital. She says it’s too soon. 

“For us to say that everything is going to be okay by Easter, I think that’s a little too early, I think we still need to just be taking our precautions and not having the mind frame that everything is going to end soon because I think it’s going to be a while,” she said. “And I’m on the front lines and I can tell you that we’re not at our peak yet.”

Other public health experts have made similar comments. “The best way we can prevent the substantial deaths you are seeing now in Spain and Italy is to really double down on social distancing,” Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told Yahoo Finance this week.

Despite reassurances from Cuomo that additional masks, gloves, and face shields, are being distributed to hospitals, Moise said she hasn’t seen them yet at the hospital where she works.

“They must just be rolling in. I haven’t been told that ‘hey, we have a whole new stock of N 95s for you.’ But for sure as of [Tuesday], my friends that are at all the area hospitals, they’re running out,” she said. “If they’re coming in, they’re probably trickling in and we’re probably going to get word of it little by little.”

Graphic by David Foster/Yahoo Finance

With deluge of coronavirus patients, walk-ins no longer welcome

Many New Yorkers who suspect they might have the coronavirus have been flocking to Moise’s urgent care facility. She has been left to decide how to manage the flow of patients while also protecting the health and safety of her employees and other patients.

“We have folks, a lot of people that are coming in with symptoms that are consistent, that we’re thinking that could be COVID, such as cough, fever, hard time breathing,” she said. “We’re trying to at least test them for flu, to make sure that they don’t have the flu, so we’re doing everything that we can here.”

Big Apple Urgent Care is no longer accepting walk-ins. Moise said her facility is now screening people outside. “I have one of my medical assistants outside that asks them a set of questions, so at least this helps us to seperate those that may have COVID and separate them away from those who probably don’t,” she said.

Developing a telemedicine program is the next step for Moise amid the coronavirus crisis. “I should have that up and running shortly and basically my goal is to use telemedicine for those who have the COVID-like symptoms so I can keep them away [and prevent them] from spreading it as much as possible.” 

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