Today Dr. Thornton and I attended a medical department teleconference for Metropolitan Methodist Hospital to discuss what’s going on in that hospital system with Covid-19. It’s encouraging to hear how hard Methodist system is working to adapt quickly to respond to the situation as things change rapidly. We receive emails with updates from them multiple times a day.
One way Methodist Hospitals are adapting is to increase hospital capacity to care for patients with Covid-19. Next week a new floor of ICU and hospital beds is expected to open at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital. The Methodist has also converted one of their surgical facilities into an acute care hospital dedicated to treating patients with Covid-19. Elective surgeries are being postponed, which will free up space, equipment and staff to treat sick patients.
Methodist Hospitals are also devising strategies to improve our supply of personal protective equipment (PPE–masks, goggles, gloves, gowns). Although supplies are still severely limited, the measures the hospitals are taking to conserve PPE is encouraging. They are tracking inventory of PPE multiple times per day and constantly revising plans to use PPE more efficiently; they will also be sending used PPE out to a private company to be sterilized, and have started a pilot program at Metropolitan Methodist using UV light to sterilize equipment so that it can be safely re-used if needed.
Methodist Hospitals are getting a telemedicine system up and running, which will further help to conserve PPE and keep providers and patients safer. (We’re working on getting telemedicine capabilities for our clinic too.)
One area which continues to lag behind is testing. Testing for the virus is still severely limited—even at the hospital there aren’t enough test kits, and while more test kits are becoming available through private labs, we’re told the private labs are getting overwhelmed with testing and can’t keep up. Hopefully this will change soon, but until then, we still need to limit testing to people with symptoms and, in general, to those who are at increased risk for medical complications. Here is a tool from the city of San Antonio which you can use to help clarify whether you need testing: https://covid19test.quacito.com/ (Of course, you can always call us for advice.)
Many people who suspect they have the virus but aren’t particularly sick may still not get tested, but will nevertheless need to isolate themselves at home just as they would if they had tested positive. It’s not really clear how long people need to stay isolated after they get well. Dr. Thornton listed the current recommendation according to Up to Date in an earlier blog. That may change as we learn more.
Other hospital systems in our area are taking similar steps as the Methodist system, but it’s clear that right now, the community measures we are taking to limit spread of the virus are going to be essential to prevent our hospitals from getting overwhelmed with more patients than hospital beds or medical providers to take care of them. Today in the Washington Post there was an article describing how smart phones can be used to track compliance with social distancing in various states. Whatever privacy issues this raises, I was pleased to see that in Texas, people seem to be following the recommendations to stay at home: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/03/24/social-distancing-maps-cellphone-location/
I’m optimistic that if we continue to do so, we can “flatten the curve” of spread of the virus, protecting ourselves and preserving the ability of our hospital systems to care for the truly ill.
Lots of medical studies are underway which hold promise of identifying effective treatment, but it will take some time to get answers from these, and it will be longer (by all account, at least a year) before an effective vaccine is available. Until then, don’t forget the basics: “Stay healthy” (exercise, eat right, get enough sleep), keep your hands washed and away from your face, stay away from others if you’re sick, and hunker down at home for a while longer.
We’re around if you need us.
Dr. Jennifer Wallace
Dr. Mark Thornton