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These past few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking often of my home state of Kansas. My husband and I, who both grew up in Topeka, live in Brooklyn. We have many family and friends who live in Kansas and Missouri, including parents and grandparents who live in Topeka.
I am a KU Med-trained family medicine physician who practices in Brooklyn.
I am by no means on the “front lines” of the fight against this terrible virus in New York, but I do have many friends and colleagues who are, and I’ve heard some pretty terrifying stories. I have spent the past several weeks providing virtual medical services to patients in New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., who have symptoms of COVID-19.
Last week, we surpassed a very sad milestone — we now have had more deaths in New York state from COVID-19 than deaths from the Sept. 11th tragedy. NYC hospitals now have refrigerated trucks stationed outside, because the morgues are full and the death toll continues to rise.
I say these things not to be “fear mongering,” but because I think it’s important we all realize that this can, and likely will, happen in many other parts of the country.
It is very likely that as your local case count grows, it also drastically under-reports the actual number of cases in your community. As we saw in the early days in NYC, the criteria used for testing were so strict that it allowed us to test almost no one, even when we had very strong suspicions that someone likely had been infected with the novel coronavirus.
We are now paying dearly for that mistake, and a couple of weeks ago the New York State Department of Health mandated that we stop all testing except for those who are sick enough to be hospitalized.
The reasoning was that cases were so widespread in the community that we didn’t “need” to test anymore, rather we could safely assume that all people who had symptoms would test positive. Not testing also allows us to preserve the necessary resources (testing kits and personal protective equipment) for our hospitals that need them the most.
Obviously this is not ideal, but it’s our reality. We should do everything we can to prevent other areas of the country from being in the same situation. Please do not let “low” numbers of reported cases in your area lead you to believe that it’s “not that bad” in your local community yet. Everyone should behave as though their area has hundreds, if not thousands of cases.
Please, obey your local shelter-in-place order. Do not go out in public unless it is absolutely necessary. Consolidate your grocery orders and do curbside pick-up or delivery when you can. Offer to pick up groceries for your elderly neighbors and then do contactless delivery for them. Do not have play dates for your children or use public playgrounds.
If you have symptoms, talk to your doctor or other health care provider before you go to a local emergency room or urgent care. If you have access to PPE (particularly N95 masks or surgical masks), please inquire about donating these items at your local hospital. Do anything you can to support your local essential workers.
Be a vocal advocate for your local government when they put restrictions in place. And please, above all, take this virus seriously.
We are all in this fight together, regardless of geographic location.
With all my love, from Brooklyn, Beth.
Beth Schepker is a family medicine physician practicing in Brooklyn and a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Medicine and the Georgetown University family medicine residency program.