LA doctor treating coronavirus patients: Close schools, go to work, don’t panic

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Physician with white coat and chart. Credit: Pixabay. 

The World Health Organization says the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is now a pandemic. Health officials recommend “social distancing” while details about the disease continue to develop. This means avoiding public gatherings and staying six feet apart from people if you can. 

As known cases in America surpass 1000, Samuel Fink, an internal medicine doctor in Tarzana, wrote on Facebook, “I have practiced for over 30 years, and have seen it all, or so I thought. Nothing has worried me like this.” 

Why is he so worried? “Because I'm seeing people that are relatively young and healthy -- hospitalized. … What could this do to our health care system? Most ICUs, most CCUs are full already. We have many patients with influenza, many other illnesses,” he tells KCRW. “So my goal is to decrease the number of people that actually get coronavirus, because if you do that, you can decrease the burden on the health care system." 

Fink is currently treating four patients who tested positive for COVID-19. They became ill after returning from a ski trip in northern Italy and were hospitalized. One was older, with pre-existing health conditions. The other three were in their 40s, 50s and 60s. “These are not somebody who’s morbidly ill. You can’t ski in northern Italy if you’re ill,” Fink tells KCRW. 

What does that tell him about coronavirus? “It’s something new that we have not seen before. I think we have to remember -- it’s also a small sample size. … And we're getting a lot of information from around the world about what's going on,” he says.

Fink emphasizes that it’s important to not panic and not stockpile supplies. 

“We can't go crazy over all of this. We have to take some common sense precautions. I've noticed that as soon as a school has a case, the school seems to close. So the suggestion I made is that if we're going to do that anyway, let's close the schools before there is a case. And I think it's a very good idea to avoid large public gatherings. I had tickets to the theater last weekend and didn't go,” 

Universities and colleges have closed. What about public schools? 

“I'd advise closing the public schools as well. And the reason is that the school is closed all the time anyway. They're off at Thanksgiving. They're off for their winter break. They’re off for spring break. They’re off for the summer. So I'm saying let's give them spring break a few weeks early. And then we'll know more in a few weeks,” Fink says. “Maybe there's no need to do this. But I think at this point, I'd rather be prudent and a little safer. If it turns out in two to four weeks, if this all goes away or it's not a big deal, go back to school.” 

Closing schools would make it tough for students who rely on schools for maybe their only full meal of the day. 

“Yes. And that's a concern. But it's a concern that parents have to deal with at least four times a year. … And perhaps some other programs or some sort of government assistance can be set up not only to feed them, but also to provide online learning, or learning on television, so that they're able to continue their classes,” says Fink. 

Are many patients calling Fink to see if they could come in because they don't feel well and want to get tested? 

He says that’s only happened once, and he ended up having the patient’s wife come in to pick up nasal swabs and return them about half an hour later. 

“A few people have asked, but people who have not been ill, and they had no risk factors. So we’re trying to be prudent about who we're testing,” he says. 

San Francisco has banned public gatherings. Should LA do the same? 

“Yes. And I noticed … Golden State Warriors announced that they were not going to have fans at the games. And I think that is reasonable. Play the games, but either have no fans or a limited number of fans,” he says. 

Should we go to work? 

Fink says he’s certainly going to work, and expects everyone to go to work.  “For most of us, work does not include a very large public place. And again, if we go crazy, we’ll do more harm than good. We have to be rational,” he says. 

Is it tough to get tested for coronavirus?

Fink says testing only became available as of Monday, and he did a test yesterday but haven’t received results yet. 

“I'm trying to find out what the turnaround time will be. So it's still really new. And there have not been a lot of tests available. That's a little bit problematic,” he says. 

When Fink is waiting for a patient’s test results, he does tell them to self-quarantine until the results come back. 

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson

Credits

Guest:
Samuel Fink - board-certified doctor of internal medicine

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Alexandra Sif Tryggvadottir, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin, Caleigh Wells