Epidemic Essentials: The Healthcare System

by Mayzie Purviance

“Is this really that big of a deal?”

This seems to be the question on many American’s minds amid the Coronavirus (COVID-19) chaos.  According to both Dr. Kary Engle, a traveling physician’s assistant in Montana, and Emergency Physician Dr. Emily Porter of Austin Texas, it is.

“We just don’t have the resources,” Dr. Engle said.  “And we don’t have a way to ramp that up.  We don’t have the amount of ventilators we would need if this virus progresses.”

Dr. Engle said although the health care system is relatively up to par on any given day as far as stock of supplies goes, Coronavirus calls for far more medical equipment.

To put things into perspective, Dr. Porter released a video stressing the lack of medical supplies we have in the United States.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Literally ever person in the United States needs to watch this.<br><br>PLEASE RETWEET <a href=”https://t.co/3IglZtOVgL”>pic.twitter.com/3IglZtOVgL</a></p>&mdash; Scottacular (@Scottcrates) <a href=”https://twitter.com/Scottcrates/status/1241393485241974786?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>March 21, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

“Right now, we’re in the middle of this Coronavirus outbreak and everyone is really confused because they don’t understand ‘Why are the bars closing?  Why is everyone hoarding toilet paper?  What does social distancing mean?  What does flatten the curve mean?’” Dr. Porter said.  “I’m going to show you on my white board why doctors, governors, and other people around the country are concerned about Coronavirus and why every American should be.”

Porter wrote down the number of the U.S. population which is 331 million people.  She then cited the Center for Disease Control (CDC) which estimates that anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of the population will be infected.  Porter chose 45 percent as her sample number, a relatively optimistic figure considering it’s on the lower end of the CDC’s range.

If 45 percent of Americans contract COVID-19, that translates to about 150 million people.  Porter said that around 80 percent of those 150 million people would probably be okay, the virus would run its course and they would go on about their way.  However, the other 20 percent would need to be hospitalized and out of that 20 percent, anywhere from 5 to 10 percent would need ventilators.

Now, 5 percent of people who contract COVID-19 needing ventilators doesn’t sound like too much of a stretch, right?  Wrong.  Five percent of 150 million people (again, going with an optimistic low number) equals 7.5 million ventilators needed.

Dr. Porter stated it is estimated that the U.S. is home to 72,000 to 120,000 ventilators.  With production increasing, she estimated 150,000 ventilators in the entire country.  If 7.5 million people will need a ventilator, and we only have 150,000, this means only 0.02 percent, or one in 50, Coronavirus patients who NEED a ventilator will get one.

“That should scare everybody who could understand basic math, including my second grader, that one in 50 is bad odds,” Dr. Porter said.

The scariest part of all this?  Health care professionals will have to pick which person gets a ventilator and leave 49 others without that life support.

“Can you imagine if you had to say ‘Oh, I’m sorry, you have had cancer before, therefore you don’t have a perfectly clean bill of health so you’re not worth saving.’  Can you imagine saying ‘Oh, I’m sorry, you’re 80 and I’ve got a 30-year-old that needs the ventilator,’” Dr. Porter posed.

“Unless you want somebody to decide if you’re worth saving — or your dad or you sister or your baby or your gramma is worth saving — you have to do your part to prevent us from having to make those decisions.  Because we’re heading there, and we’re heading there very, very quickly,” Dr. Porter said.

Another big issue from the healthcare side of things is that the Coronavirus is novel, meaning it’s new and foreign, and health care professionals are uncovering new information about the virus every single day.

“Because we are finding out new information about the virus every day, multiple times a day, information given to and from the health care system is everchanging,” Dr. Engle said.

Dr. Engle said that as COVID-19 progresses, we’re all going to learn more about it.

“People need to get off of Facebook and quit listening to just every doctor who decides they want to post about the Coronavirus,” Dr. Engle said.  “The information given to us changes so frequently, if you’re wanting to learn more, look on the CDC or WHO [World Health Organization] websites.”

Dr. Engle said it’s important that we learn from China and Italy, whose combined number of Coronavirus cases equals 140,739.  She said, personally, she gives China a break on how the country handled everything in the beginning because no one knew exactly how to respond.  For now, countries are simply trying to figure out what needs to happen.

“We’re not perfect — this virus did not come with a textbook,” Dr. Engle said.  “The healthcare system won’t be able to save everyone, and I hope the general public realizes that.  What we can do is follow the guidelines and provide all the medical support that we have the capacity to do.”



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