- Dr. Natasha Kathuria, an emergency medicine physician with expertise in public health and epidemiology, has been treating patients at the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Based in Austin, Texas, she described how doctors in the six different ERs where she works have become overrun with both coronavirus and non-coronavirus patients.
- The ER doctor said the record-high coronavirus case counts don't portray "an accurate picture" of the situation in the state, as families and hospital staff feel not only the devastating impact of COVID-19 outbreaks but also patients who die of other causes.
- "It's not just, 'We've got a lot of COVID-19, and everyone's dying of COVID-19,'" Kathuria said. "Patients with cancer are not getting their cancer surgery, patients who are delivering children in the hospital and not being able to feel comfortable that they're not at risk for COVID."
- She emphasized the importance of showing how overwhelmed hospitals are in hopes to make it a higher priority to get a more cohesive and rapid coronavirus testing and contact tracing infrastructure in place.
- Until then, Kathuria said she hopes that people put aside political beliefs and become more unified in their response to the virus, at least until the coronavirus becomes more manageable.
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An ER doctor in Texas described the devastating impact of coronavirus outbreaks in the state, emphasizing that not only are COVID-19 patients suffering but patients "across the board."
Dr. Natasha Kathuria, an emergency medicine physician with expertise in public health and epidemiology, told Business Insider that as the wave of coronavirus cases slams the state, hospitals are getting overwhelmed treating all types of cases.
"It's not just, 'We've got a lot of COVID-19, and everyone's dying of COVID-19,'" Kathuria said. "Patients with cancer are not getting their cancer surgery, patients who are delivering children in the hospital and not being able to feel comfortable that they're not at risk for COVID."
"We have a higher proportion of sick patients coming in than ever before," she continued. "Before, we would have plenty of non-sick patients who were just simple cases that we treat and discharge, treat and discharge."
Based in Austin, Texas, Kathuria works in six different ERs throughout the state, treating patients of all kinds at the front lines. As doctors become overwhelmed with patients, she said they're forced into "just doing the basics, just trying to keep people alive as long as we can."
"People died of avoidable, preventable causes of death, and that's what we were trying to avoid," she added.
As of Thursday, Texas has nearly 531,000 confirmed coronavirus infections in the state, and the state death toll has surpassed 9,700. Earlier this week, the positivity rate in testing soared to 24.5% of tests, according to state data.
But Kathuria stressed that there is more to the devastating effects of the coronavirus in Texas than the record-high case counts, which display a substantial number of excess deaths — or the number of deaths between the projected number and observed.
Last week, the US saw 3.4% to 7.2% excess deaths across all causes, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Excess death rates went as high as 17% across the US as the coronavirus battered states along the Sun Belt.
Even then, she said excess death rate may not even take into account coronavirus-related deaths due to the lack of quick, reliable COVID-19 testing.
"We don't know if these excess deaths that maybe were never diagnosed with COVID-19 or COVID-19-related," Kathuria told Business Insider. "Maybe they had COVID-19, and we couldn't test them for it, or they died at home, or they died at the ER where we weren't going to be able to test them while they're coding." (Coding refers to patients who are going into cardiopulmonary arrest.)
"It's a tough battle to really get an accurate picture," she said, "And that's why it's really important to really present the whole picture of how our healthcare system is doing, and it's not doing well."
Kathuria said she and her colleagues are "terrified" of the upcoming flu season as it overlaps with the coronavirus pandemic. She expressed concern that if fewer people are inclined to get a flu vaccine in the fall due to "conspiracy theories and concerns about vaccinations that have been disproven," the US could see a flu season that is "way worse than before."
"They [influenza and the coronavirus] present very similarly from the beginning, so separating them will be very difficult if we still don't have the capability of doing rapid COVID testing in the ER, just like we can do with influenza," she said.
"So we really need to ramp up rapid testing, and I'm not talking about these tests that come back in like seven to 10 days that don't really do much for prevention of spreading this virus on a large scale."
Better testing and contact tracing methods will go a long way towards managing the virus, Kathuria said, though without a proper national testing and tracing infrastructure, the consequences could be — and have been — deadly.
"We're not looking to make COVID-19 go away in 2020. We actually don't know how long it may be here, maybe forever," she said. "But what we're trying to do is manage it. We've been doing this for decades with influenza, malaria … and Zika virus."
"We know how to manage infectious diseases when they are manageable, but when they are no longer manageable — meaning our hospital systems and our healthcare system gets overrun and overburdened with the disease — everybody suffers."
She cited the politicization of the virus as one of the key reasons why the pandemic has been polarizing public health efforts and diversifying public opinion of the virus as a whole.
"Political beliefs run very deep in everybody… but what we're worried about is that it's actually going to affect our normal public health measures," Kathuria told Business Insider. "That's why these policy changes — the importance of wearing masks, limiting mass gatherings — all of these things are so crucial just to get us across the finish line."
In a recent visit to El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott implored Texans to wear masks and practice social distancing, and stay at home if they can, adding that he understands that the task can be "a challenge," but "a once in a lifetime challenge."
Kathuria echoed a similar sentiment, saying that these strict health safety measures are "not a forever thing."
"We just need to keep this manageable, but we need everyone on the same page," she said.
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