- The novel coronavirus has hit Italy hard, pushing its healthcare system to its limits.
- The country is the European epicentre of the pandemic, reporting more than 15,000 infections and more than 1,000 deaths related to COVID-19.
- As the US braces for an increased number of cases, the Journal of the American Medical Association interviewed Dr. Maurizio Cecconi, a doctor based in Milan, to get his advice on how American doctors should prepare.
- “Don’t underestimate this,” Cecconi said.
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Italy has quickly become one of the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a conversation hosted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Maurizio Cecconi, the head of the department of anesthesia and intensive care units at Humanitas Research Hospital in Milan, said Italy’s situation began on February 20, when a patient in his 30s tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Friday, Italy had more than 15,000 infections and more than 1,000 deaths related to COVID-19. The country has taken drastic steps, such as locking down the country. In the parts of the country hardest hit by the coronavirus, clinicians are facing a shortage of medical supplies and hospital beds. Doctors are being forced to make tough decisions about whom to treat.
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As the case count rises in the US, the country’s health system can stand to learn from Italy’s experience. Cecconi shared his recommendations for the country, as well as the rest of the world.
Most importantly: “Don’t underestimate this,” he said. “This is not a normal flu. This is serious.”
While he said the majority of people who get infected will recover on their own, he’s noticed that the percentage who need hospitalisation is high – especially in the intensive care units.
“Get ready,” he said. That includes making sure hospitals are ready for a surge in patients, finding spots in the hospital that can be devoted to those with the coronavirus, and adding ICU bed capacity.
Ideally, this should happen before the outbreak gets bad in your hospital’s area.
“Make sure that if an outbreak comes, a cluster comes close to you, you don’t lose by putting the plan in action,” Cecconi said.
Hospitals can’t win with increased capacity alone
As important as it is for hospitals to prepare, containment and mitigation manoeuvres to stop the spread of the virus are also crucial, he said.
“Do not think that you can win this battle just by increasing your capacity,” Cecconi said. “Containment, mitigation manoeuvres, slowing down manoeuvres are equally important if not more important than anything we can do as doctors.”
To win, it will take government and citizens helping out as well. That includes drastic steps like cancelling major events, having employees work from home, and other moves to limit the spread of the virus.
Protective social-distancing measures like closing workplaces and cancelling large gatherings such as sports games are key in mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus, as illustrated by a chart from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
That, in turn, would help stop the virus from overwhelming the US healthcare system.
“If the moment comes where your government in the US or in any other country mandates self-isolation or any other manoeuvre, I think it is the personal responsibility of every citizen to do that,” Cecconi said. “Because if you don’t take down the transmission of the virus, then the capacity of your system will be overwhelmed.”
- Read more:
- A leaked presentation reveals the document US hospitals are using to prepare for a major coronavirus outbreak. It estimates 96 million US coronavirus cases and 480,000 deaths.
- Health insurers are cutting members’ costs for coronavirus testing and letting them get refills early as the outbreak threatens the US
- Bill Gates says the novel coronavirus is a ‘once-in-a-century pathogen.’ The Gates Foundation just joined Wellcome and Mastercard in committing $US125 million to find new treatments for it.
- The US is struggling to test more people for the coronavirus. Now it’s facing a shortage of the materials used to run those tests.
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