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Diary From The Coronavirus Frontlines: ‘It’s Getting Pretty Scary And Pretty Overwhelming’

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This illustration reveals the morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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“Diary From The Coronavirus Frontlines” is an ongoing series of dispatches from health care workers.

I spoke with an ER doctor at a downtown Los Angeles hospital, right after he stayed an extra three-and-a-half hours beyond his shift on Tuesday.

He stayed because the COVID-19 patients who came into his ER were really, really sick.

“It wasn’t the volume of the cases, it was the acuity,” said the doctor, who requested anonymity so he could speak frankly without fear of repercussions at work.

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Overall, he said the volume of patients in his ER is down by about half, as people continue to stay home. But a higher ratio of patients are being hospitalized.

“The admission rate is just skyrocketing, and the amount that need to be admitted to a higher level of care, having more ventilatory support, is increasing by the day,” he said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the doctor said his hospital would admit about 13% of patients who came into the ER. But now, he said, the admission rate has gone up closer to 20% or 30%.

While there’s a delay in getting test results for coronavirus, the doctor said he can now recognize a COVID-19 case when he sees one.

“The cases are extremely similar. The X-rays are extremely similar, the overall presentations, the vital signs, the laboratory, the diagnostic testing is extremely similar -- it’s almost like following a recipe,” he said. “It’s pretty eerie.”

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The ICU at the doctor’s hospital is filling up, and he said more wings are being converted to accommodate patients.

“It’s getting pretty scary and pretty overwhelming. And for the clinicians, it is mentally, emotionally, physically draining. I am just absolutely exhausted,” he said. “And this is the beginning.”

He hoped that people continue their social distancing.

“This is like a Hail Mary,” he said. “People are getting sicker in higher volumes, and it’s up to us to be responsible.”

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