The release of restrictions, and the reopening of business in states that appeared to have COVID-19 under control, has resulted in a massive increase both in positive tests but also hospitalizations.
In Texas, one of the emerging hotspots of the virus, we are seeing 30- to 50-year-olds, rather than the elderly, who are seeking treatment. The cause of this resurgence in cases seems obvious — the lack of precautions, such as wearing masks in public and social distancing — a formula to expand the reach of an already highly communicable virus.
An infected person may have COVID-19 but not know it. They may refrain from wearing a face mask, and might speak to a non-infected person who is also not wearing a mask. This is all it takes for respiratory droplets loaded with virus to be inhaled by the non-infected recipient, who will fall ill in three to five days. This is what we need our 30- to 50- year olds to understand.
We also need the public to understand that wearing masks and engaging in social distancing are protective measures that can easily contain the spread of the virus so that we do not have an even more dramatic second wave of COVID-19 cases.
The hospitals are full again with COVID-19-infected patients. This has caused some states to, once again, limit elective surgeries so that there are hospital beds available for the new surge in COVID-19 cases. Last time this happened, many patients were denied prompt health care for conditions requiring urgent resolution. This must not happen again.
Many people who need medical treatment are also avoiding hospital visits out of fear that they will acquire COVID-19. We must let the public know that they will not catch COVID-19 in the hospital, and if they need treatment, they must come on in. Frontline workers are no longer getting infected with the virus as they now have access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
We must also continue to think about how we can keep patients safe at home, including both COVID-19 patients self-monitoring at home, and those patients with a serious illness that may be reluctant to visit the hospital. Home monitoring can detect a number of clinical measurements and vital signs which are then wirelessly transmitted to a caregiver’s smartphone. These signs can then be assessed, and a video link can be activated if necessary. In this way, the right patients can now be safely taken care of at home.
Scientists are working non-stop to develop curative therapies and vaccines for COVID-19, which are on the horizon, and engineers are developing new technologies all the time to keep our patients and the population safe. We will get there, and soon. We at the Patient Safety Movement Foundation must make sure that any innovations in medicine are available to all who need it. Disparities in care must be eliminated to keep us all safe.
Finally, with so much discord in the community that we must reconcile, we must not forget our work in patient safety up to now, and the Actionable Patient Safety Solutions that we, with you, have created. We must make sure that our hospitals are high-reliability organizations.
Our commitment to eradicate biases in healthcare stands stronger than ever. Systemic racism, injustice, and inequality have no place in our hearts, our organization, our healthcare system, or our country. ZERO preventable deaths and harm remains our mission and extends beyond hospital walls. We will fight until every patient, health care worker, and person feels safe.
Patient Safety is Public Safety! Let’s bring the principles that we have learned in health care to the greater public arena: Transparency, Communication, Honesty, Integrity, and Leadership.
Stay safe! We are all in this together, so we will find solutions.
Mike Ramsay, M.D.
Chairman, Patient Safety Movement Foundation
President, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute, Dallas, TX