A letter to politicians: Doctors without PPE is deplorable and must be fixed

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I am a pediatrician. Daily I see kids with fevers and coughs who test negative for influenza. Some have pneumonia. I am not able to test them for SARS-CoV2, so I encourage them to self-quarantine. If I find nothing else, I tell them they have a viral illness. They ask me if it’s “the coronavirus,” and I tell them that, contrary to what they are hearing from our government officials on TV, I cannot test them for this virus, because they don’t meet certain criteria despite their symptoms.

Until three days ago, I did not have an N95 mask for precautions. I appreciate that there is mixed information as to whether a regular surgical mask is sufficient, or whether more stringent “airborne” protocols are needed; however, images from China and Italy support the need for airborne pathogen precautions. I still do not have eye gear or other personal protective equipment (PPE) nor do my colleagues.
And I am not even on the frontlines, in the EDs and urgent cares, caring for the elderly or those with cardiovascular comorbidities. Those of my physician colleagues are mostly in the same boat, no PPE, but still continuing to do the jobs we are passionately compelled to do, because of our oath, because of who we are.

I am 35 years old. I am a pediatrician, mother, and wife. My children are 6, 3, and 1. I am making sure my will is in order because of the 1/1000 chance I may die from this. I know I’m going to catch it, as are my colleagues.

How do you sit silently, watching government officials speak of the economy while physicians are taking care of patients who almost certainly have SARS-CoV2 without even a basic mask? I ask you to require those hoarding masks to bring them to hospitals for healthcare workers to use. I encourage you to use factory facilities to increase the production of masks or crowdsource innovative ways to create new masks. I am really just asking you to place some value on the health of those providing healthcare, so we can continue to safely carry out our duties as physicians.

Perhaps you should consider accompanying me or one of my colleagues with inadequate PPE as we see our patients. Would you?
Would you allow firefighters to enter burning buildings without their suits? Divers to enter the water without their oxygen tank? No? Why not? Because you know what is inevitable.

This is the same. It may not appear so. But it is. And if you can live with that, perhaps government office is not the right place for you.

Romita Almonte is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com 

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