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In COVID-19 War, Uncle Sam Wants You to Stay Home

Patti Singer

Mancee Thompson, LPN, wears personal protective equipment at work in the Wilson Tent at Rochester General Hospital, part of Rochester Regional Health. Photo provided by Rochester Regional Health

During World War II, Americans on the home front bought War Bonds to support the troops. At night, block captains made the rounds in neighborhoods to make sure blackout curtains were drawn tight. On posters everywhere, a determined Uncle Sam pointed, said “I want you for the U.S. Army” and urged the viewer to go to the nearest recruiting station.

If Uncle Sam glared from a poster for the war against COVID-19, he’d say, “I want you to stay home.”

Staying home reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus and it saves the gear and equipment needed by hospitals to treat people who become critically ill.

At two news conferences within a few days, officials of Rochester Regional Health and UR Medicine were asked several times whether they had enough masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as enough beds and ventilators to handle a potentially massive influx of patients – so-called surge capacity.

They said they are looking into how to repurpose anesthesia machines as ventilators. They have a four-phase plan for creating bed space. They check their supply chain regularly to make sure they have PPE to now require that all staff, visitors and vendors in the hospitals wear a mask.

But that supply, however large it is, is finite.

What’s infinite, though, is the public’s willingness to heed the message to stay home unless absolutely necessary and when out of the house, to keep six feet from others. With no vaccine and no cure, prevention is paramount.

“I know I sound like a broken record,” said Dr. Michael Apostolakos, chief medical officer of UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial and Highland Hospitals. “This is where the public is crucial. The public, I believe, is increasingly getting the message and helping. But I don’t believe everyone is. I read sometimes on social media that this is still, it’s not true, you don’t have to worry about this. We do have to worry about this. Social distancing is crucial to this.”

Apostolakos prescribed a smartphone and videoconferencing instead of being in crowds or physically attending a party.

“What’s really going to determine this, in my belief, whether we have enough PPE, whether we have enough capacity, whatever the federal government, the state government and we can do is going to be determined by the public,” he said. “If they continue, and even redouble their efforts of social distancing, I am confident we will have enough PPE, enough (resources) to care for them and no patients will die unnecessarily because of lack of resources. This is serious.”

Even as officials at RRH and UR Medicine talked about sterilizing masks for reuse, they said demand for services will determine the need for resources.

If the community helps to slow the spread of the illness, “We will have plenty of PPE to protect our staff that is heroically taking care of the public and we will have enough (intensive care) space for the critically ill,” Apostolakos said.