Health care workers in at least five states, including doctors and nurses in Arkansas, Boston, New Jersey, San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington state, have tested positive for covid-19 over the weekend, highlighting the burden that the coronavirus pandemic is already having on health workers in the United States.
Among the infected are two ER doctors who have been admitted to the hospital over the past few days with covid-19, according to a statement from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). Both doctors, one in Washington state and the other in New Jersey, are in critical condition.
The Washington ER doctor is a man in his 40s who works at the EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, one of the hardest hit regions in the U.S. There are currently at least 769 cases and 42 deaths in Washington alone, and 3,774 cases and 69 deaths nationwide. At least 29 of those deaths are linked to a single nursing home in the Seattle area, the Life Care Center of Kirkland.
It’s still unclear if the Washington doctor acquired the disease while on the job or if he was exposed outside of the hospital in some way, according to the ACEP. Washington’s governor Jay Inslee ordered all restaurants and bars closed on Sunday night in an effort to halt the spread of the virus.
The second American doctor in critical condition is a 70-year-old physician in Patterson, New Jersey who organizes his hospital’s emergency preparedness plans. The unnamed doctor was admitted to the hospital “several days ago” according to a statement from the ACEP.
“It is my hope that these colleagues and their cases serve as a reminder to each of us to stay vigilant,” the ACEP said. “This virus is dangerous, and its impact is still unfolding.”
Two health care workers at the University of California-San Diego tested positive for covid-19 on Saturday and two more at the University of California-San Francisco tested positive on Sunday, though their conditions are not known. All four are believed to have been infected outside of the hospital and in their communities.
“Based on our investigation thus far, there is reason to believe that their exposure to the virus was from sources outside of our clinical facilities, but we are still working to make a final assessment,” health officials in San Francisco told a local NBC affiliate in the Bay Area.
Three health care workers in Arkansas also tested positive for the coronavirus over the weekend, all related to a single case of covid-19 at the Jefferson Regional Medical Center. It’s not clear what kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) may have been used by those health care workers before they contracted the illness.
Health care workers in places like China and Italy have been hit hard by this global pandemic. At least 3,300 health care workers in China have been infected by the virus, and more than a dozen have died, though health authorities in China haven’t been forthcoming with those figures.
The CDC issued a statement on Sunday urging all Americans to cancel events of 50 people or more:
Large events and mass gatherings can contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States via travelers who attend these events and introduce the virus to new communities. Examples of large events and mass gatherings include conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies. These events can be planned not only by organizations and communities but also by individuals.
Therefore, CDC, in accordance with its guidance for large events and mass gatherings, recommends that for the next 8 weeks, organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.
But many Americans are still going out to restaurants and attending concerts, seemingly as a way to defy public health experts and show that they’re not afraid of the virus. The problem, of course, is that even healthy and young people are becoming afflicted with the disease and those who don’t present symptoms can still still be carriers of the coronavirus, infecting others who are elderly or otherwise vulnerable.
For example, this was the scene at Walt Disney World in Florida on Sunday night, as people packed together to watch the attractions:
Florida alone has at least 155 cases of the disease and four deaths, as of Monday morning. Disney announced last week that March 15 would be the last day the Florida theme parks would be open, apparently causing many people to rush inside for one last ride on Space Mountain.
And Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of California went on Fox News yesterday to tell healthy people they should take their families out to eat at restaurants to support the local economy. Public health officials have said that it’s a really bad idea to go out to restaurants right now.
On top of it all, President Donald Trump and his cronies are actively spreading misinformation about the threat, issuing proclamations and having to walk them back almost immediately. Then, when they’re called on their lies and incompetence, people like Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin go on TV and insist that they didn’t say the thing we could all hear.
Needless to say, you should not be following the advice of President Trump and Devin Nunes. The CDC, while imperfect, is a much more reliable source of public health information.