coronavirus pandemic

What ICU Doctors Have Learned About COVID-19 — and How They're Prepared for a 2nd Wave

From keeping patients off ventilators to trusting that their PPE will keep them safe

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The World Health Organization had just declared COVID-19 a pandemic when intensive care units in the United States started to see an influx of severely ill patients. It was mid-March, and though coronavirus cases had been mounting in countries including China, South Korea and Italy, in the U.S. there was still a dearth of knowledge about how the virus spread, how it affected patients, and what type of threat it posed to the doctors treating them.

Within three months, critical care physicians across the country received a crash course on a disease that didn't exist in the U.S. before this year, and are more prepared in the event of a second wave of the illness. Now, in June, doctors have a better sense of which medicines and interventions to use or avoid, how the virus affects the body, and how to face their own COVID-19 fears.

In the beginning, "everyone had the concern of getting infected," Dr. Francis Castiller, medical director of critical care at UNC REX Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, said. The new disease was spreading rapidly, before many ICUs were able to prepare for the surge or protect their staff appropriately.

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