‘Are we going to undergo this once more?’ A New York hospital braces for second Covid wave

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The road of sufferers outdoors the emergency room at Elmhurst hospital in Queens has vanished. So has the near-perpetual wail of ambulance sirens that stuffed the air on this working-class neighbourhood earlier this yr when the coronavirus pandemic was bearing down on New York Metropolis. 

But after a summer season respite, Dr Eric Wei, the hospital’s chief government, is once more feeling dread. Elmhurst, a public hospital that is among the metropolis’s oldest and busiest — and whose sufferers are amongst its poorest — is as soon as extra seeing an increase in Covid-19 instances and bracing for a second wave.

“Despite the fact that we anticipated the numbers to go up because the climate turned, now that it’s truly taking place I really feel this pit in my abdomen like, ‘are we going to undergo this once more?’” mentioned Dr Wei.

The pandemic’s resurgence in New York was confirmed this week by the Governor Andrew Cuomo, who declared that the state was coming into “a brand new section within the battle towards Covid” as he laid out a battle plan to attempt to include a surge in instances. 

“My greatest nightmare”, Mr Cuomo mentioned, was hospitals being overwhelmed as Elmhurst almost was in March. The scenario grew to become so determined that refrigerated vehicles have been introduced in to carry an overflow of our bodies. The encompassing neighbourhood suffered one of many metropolis’s — and the nation’s — highest Covid-19 loss of life charges.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo holds a vial of coronavirus vaccine at a information convention on Thursday © Mike Groll/Workplace of Governor of Andrew M. Cuomo/AP

“It’s not simply the general public who have been scared — we have been, too,” mentioned Eduardo Santana, an Elmhurst nurse for 38 years who delayed his retirement to assist his co-workers by the disaster. Despite the fact that instances had declined within the neighbourhood, the concern had remained. “Individuals are panicking each time they’ve a cough,” he mentioned.

Dr Eric Toner, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins College, who led an in depth research of New York Metropolis’s coronavirus response, mentioned he could be “shocked” if the scenario was as dangerous this time round.

“We simply know an entire heck of much more about Covid-19 than we did again then,” Dr Toner mentioned. “We all know what to anticipate with these sufferers. We all know what are the indications of both prognosis or a foul prognosis, and now we have therapies which can be no less than considerably efficient.”

In preparation for the winter, the town’s public hospital system has stockpiled a 90-day provide of protecting gear and a whole bunch of ventilators. It has expanded important care capability at public hospitals and fine-tuned pc “dashboards” that enable docs and knowledge specialists to handle an onslaught of sufferers.

People wearing protective face masks queue to visit a mobile Covid-19 testing unit at Elmhurst hospital
Individuals carrying protecting face masks queue to go to a cellular Covid-19 testing unit at Elmhurst hospital © Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Reflecting on Elmhurst’s expertise, Dr Wei believes a part of the issue within the early days was that the hospital, which serves one of many world’s most numerous immigrant communities, had been getting ready for a special pathogen: the Ebola virus, which reached New York Metropolis in 2014.

“We’d completed a number of preparation across the system, and the town and the nation. Asking questions on journey to Africa, publicity to different individuals with Ebola-like signs, and getting them right into a negative-pressure room and having the ability to isolate them. So I believe that’s how we began with Covid,” he recalled. Earlier than he knew it, they have been going through a fireplace hose of infections — “simply so many sufferers with Covid and Covid-like signs that it simply overwhelmed the standard screening and isolating”.

Over the summer season, the hospital’s Covid-19 instances dwindled to single digits however by no means fairly went away. At current, Elmhurst is treating simply over 30 Covid-19 sufferers — fewer than 10 of whom have been intubated. By comparability, it was coping with 150 intubations at a time within the worst days of the disaster.

Present sufferers are usually youthful and more healthy than these contaminated within the first wave, in line with Dr Wei. That implies fewer will progress to important care this time round.

Hospital workers sit for a group counselling session at Elmhurst to talk about their experiences dealing with the pandemic
Hospital staff sit for a gaggle counselling session at Elmhurst to speak about their experiences coping with the pandemic © Robert Bumsted/AP

The hospital has additionally discovered from exhausting expertise. One counter-intuitive lesson: to chorus from placing sufferers on ventilators for so long as doable — even when their depleted oxygen ranges counsel in any other case.

“Plenty of the issues the remainder of the nation has been doing — these classes have been discovered right here, by way of proning sufferers[lying them on their fronts], giving steroids like dexamethasone, giving remdesivir,” Dr Wei mentioned.

Like different hospital executives, his best concern now will not be about securing sufficient beds or ventilators however discovering sufficient workers.

“We have been unfortunate and fortunate in the truth that we have been the primary to surge in New York Metropolis, and the remainder of the nation actually got here to our help,” mentioned Dr Wei. “However now the entire nation is surging, and so individuals who got here right here within the spring are responding of their native communities.”

Some Elmhurst docs and nurses retired early or left the occupation altogether after their expertise within the first wave. In an interview with the Open Discussion board Infectious Ailments Podcast, Dr Eric Bressman, then the hospital’s chief resident, recalled crying junior docs calling him after hours, attempting to make sense of the loss not of 1 affected person on their shift however 20. “It was traumatic,” he mentioned.

The hospital consulted the navy to develop the kind of counselling extra generally given to troopers in a battle zone. It has additionally employed “travelling” nurses to attempt to bolster its ranks — though these at the moment are more and more scarce throughout the nation.

In a disaster, Elmhurst will probably be stretched. It has developed a plan to encompass specialists reminiscent of a respiratory therapist or intensive care nurse with a gaggle of generalists to tackle as a lot of the extra mundane care as doable. “What can we take off their plate to allow them to lend their experience to extra sufferers?” is how Dr Wei described the strategy.

“I believe we’re in a greater place,” one Elmhurst nurse mentioned approvingly of such preparations. She was standing outdoors the hospital’s group care clinic. A line of individuals ready for Covid-19 assessments stretched down the block. Indicators indicated the place the anticipated wait time was 30 minutes, then 60 minutes after which 90 minutes till there have been no extra indicators however nonetheless extra individuals. “I really feel prefer it by no means stopped after the primary wave,” the nurse mentioned.

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