June 5, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Edward W. Liu, M.D. contributes to topics such as Infectious Disease, Internal Medicine.
By Edward Liu, M.D., MPH, Infectious Disease Physician
On the Frontlines
My most vivid memory of the COVID-19 pandemic was when we started to see the first patients presenting with the virus on March 14, 2020. We heard about it on the news, and I knew then it was finally hitting our area that weekend. Initially, we were trying to figure out where our patients had contracted COVID-19 and what the local hot spots were, but as the numbers grew, we realized that the virus was wide-spread in the community and our focus turned to diagnosis and treatment.
My role as an infectious disease physician usually involves diagnosing a disease and then treating it with the correct medications. But with COVID-19, a lag in lab results was causing delays in diagnosis, and there were no FDA approved treatments to initiate. My role adapted from treating patients at the bedside to also planning new protocols for COVID-19. Since it was a new virus, we worked closely with our infection prevention team to maintain patient and team member safety.
Everyone was fearful and anxious during the first month. One of the most important issues with caring for COVID-19 patients is proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent the caregiver from getting infected. Our network materials management team did a remarkable job securing the necessary PPE and ensuring our team had enough supplies. I have been impressed by the professionalism of the nurses, doctors, and the entire health care team as they put themselves and their families at risk.
During the surge, most of our patients were infected with COVID-19, but now we are starting to see the return of patients with more common infections. I spend more of my time on COVID-19 research as the principal investigator for two clinical trials. First is the Mayo Clinic convalescent plasma program which uses antibodies from recovered COVID patients to treat current patients and the other is an anti-inflammatory drug study for treatment of severe cases of COVID-19.
Our COVID-19 patient numbers are going down steadily due to good medical care, and the community wearing masks and social distancing. But I wish the public could also see the other side of this devastating illness and realize there are sick patients who are still in our hospitals, not improving and in some cases dying after weeks of care. It would make the public better understand the importance of the regulations that are in place. COVID-19 is not going to leave quickly, and if the public abandons wearing a mask and social distancing, then it will return.
I also want our community members to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to go to hospitals if they have a serious medical problem or delay important physician visits. We have already seen cases where patients have worsened at home because they waited too long before coming to the hospital. Delaying care can potentially be life-threatening. Visiting the emergency department, a medical office, or having a medical procedure performed, can be done safely at our facilities.
Strength in a Network
COVID-19 has stressed our nation’s health care system. But I’ve seen the benefits of being part of a large network like Hackensack Meridian Health that can leverage its resources and experts to weather the pandemic. We have a network-wide committee of experts that can share best practices, adapt and improve our future best practices, and make sure each care facility has resources to fight COVID-19. When one facility needs assistance, other facilities can step in and help. Our office of clinical research was instrumental in finding cutting edge clinical trials that will continue to help our COVID-19 patients. Many of the positive outcomes that we’ve seen are due to the experimental treatments that were initiated in the last few months that would not have been available to independent hospitals.
We are not out of the woods yet with this unprecedented pandemic, but we have worked hard together, adapted, and improved our performance consistently to care for our patients. I am so proud of our hospital’s performance and our team.