What is Dr. McLoughlin’s prediction regarding a second wave of COVID-19 infections that may come this fall or later? How will this affect the hospitals again?
This is an excellent question. It is impossible to say with any real certainty what will happen, partially because so much of it depends on whether people consistently take appropriate precautions and whether there is a robust and well-coordinated government response. However, I do not expect it to take as long as October before we start to see another wave. I think that it is very likely that we start to see another wave as soon as 2-3 weeks from now as people increase their activities. It is likely that we’ll see multiple waves of varying size over the next several months. The fall, when seasonal influenza also becomes an issue, will be a particularly high-risk time as our larger hospitals are typically at full capacity already at that time of year.
This should emphasize the importance of the little things we do in our day to day lives. It is becoming increasingly clear that the main mode of transmission of COVID-19 is in respiratory droplets. There is some risk from viral particles that are on objects in our environment or hang in the air for a longer time, but these appear to be much less common modes of transmission. Thus, if everyone (emphasis on EVERYONE) wears a mask or a face shield going about their day to day activities, we would be able to substantially decrease transmission. It works even better if social distancing measures are observed wherever possible. Of course, widespread availability of testing and very effective contact tracing help too.
As the country moves towards the important goal of reopening and minimizing the economic damage that has occurred, it is critically important to remain aware that the risk is very much present. Within Iowa Specialty Hospital, we have made a great effort to decrease risk by putting universal masking, aggressive testing, and timely contact tracing in place. These measures are not as robust in other parts of the state or even in our communities outside the hospital. I have a deep concern that the attempts at reopening will lead to unnecessary suffering if we do not quickly improve the testing capacity, contact tracing, and social acceptance of PPE in day to day lives. I’d encourage everyone to be a leader in your community and show that it is “normal” to wear a mask or face shield when social distancing is not possible.
Michael McLoughlin, MD, MS, is an Internal Medicine provider at Iowa Specialty Hospitals & Clinics. He has been instrumental as one of the lead physicians on the overall COVID-19 team for the hospital.