COVID-19 Update from Dr. Smith: 3/17/20

Each day during the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Craig Smith, Chair of the Department of Surgery, sends an update to faculty and staff about pandemic response and priorities. Stay up to date with us.

Dear Colleagues,

Some high points from meetings this morning:

The virus is spreading rapidly, reflected in accelerating numbers of new cases in our hospitals.  20% of the ER Medicine faculty are sick or out on quarantine (mostly the former). In case you had any doubt, this is serious.

As I suggested yesterday, quarantine policy is changing.  Exposed health care workers should keep working as long as they are asymptomatic.  This includes wearing a mask for 14 days, and checking temperature twice/day. This conforms with the new NY State DOH policy (mask) but diverges somewhat from NYC policy (no mask).  This issue is still being adjudicated by Workforce Health and Safety (WHS), so it is still possible for details (like what “exposed” exactly means) to create divergence. Unfortunately, WHS is also overwhelmed and struggling to keep up.  Efforts are underway to ramp up WHS staffing quickly.

Testing is ramping up quickly this week but will remain somewhat resource-limited for the foreseeable future.  The definitive work-horse is PCR testing for presence of antigen. Various methods for testing antibody are getting lots of attention, and are becoming more rapidly available.  Keep in mind that an infected patient can be sick and shedding virus for many days before making antibody, so antigen testing is far more important at this point in the pandemic.  Popular excitement surrounding drive-by testing is also creating a shortage of nasal swabs, without which no testing can be done.

Craig R. Smith, MD
Chair, Department of Surgery
Surgeon-in-Chief, NYP/CUIMC


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