The pandemic that is caused by the coronavirus, labeled COVID-19, continues to spread across the US. There are many timely reports about where the newest cases have been found and how many deaths have occurred. There is much to know about this new virus, but several things are clear. It can spread easily in a community, and for some getting an infection can be deadly. By now most of you have heard that the virus attacks the respiratory system and for those elderly patients with known lung disease, heart disease or diabetes, the odds that they will need hospitalization are increased. I think of my own patient population where most of my patients fit this profile. What would happen to all of them?
I think it is important to understand what measures are currently being taken to help everyone in the US deal with this pandemic. The current recommendations to wash your hands, stay away from crowds, and self-quarantine are simply designed to slow the occurrence of infection. Once this virus is established in a community the new case load will increase as will the fatalities. Since we have no preventative or specific treatment measures available, only supportive care can be applied. However, slowing the new case load is important because if large numbers of people get infected at or near the same time they would overwhelm and overload the health system. Locally, there would not be enough hospital beds, especially critical care beds to go around.