Two Emergency Physicians Remain in Critical Condition From COVID-19

Megan Brooks

March 18, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Amid growing concern in the United States for healthcare workers on the front lines of the novel coronavirus pandemic, two emergency medicine physicians ― one in Washington State and one in New Jersey ― remain in critical condition as a result of COVID-19.

Both are members of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

"It is my hope that these colleagues and their cases serve as a reminder to each of us to stay vigilant. This virus is dangerous, and its impact is still unfolding," ACEP President William Jaquis, MD, said in a news release.

"As emergency physicians, we answer the call to care for our most vulnerable, even at great personal risk. Knowing that, I urge each of you to meticulously follow the recommended precautions to protect yourself," he added.

The emergency physician with COVID-19 in New Jersey is James Pruden, MD, age 70, director of emergency preparedness for St. Joseph's University Medical Center in Paterson.

Pruden was admitted to the hospital March 6. As of March 16, he was in isolation after he began experiencing severe upper respiratory symptoms, the New York Post reported.

Today, hospital spokeswoman Pamela Garretson told Medscape Medical News, "While there is no updated statement, we can share with you that Dr Pruden remains critical but stable."

St. Joseph's Health president, Kevin Slavin, confirmed Pruden's COVID-19 diagnosis during a press conference last week and said Pruden had given him permission to release his identity. "He recognizes by sharing his name and condition it may encourage others to come forward and get tested. The point we want to make is we are all at risk of this," Slavin said, according to the New York Post.

Hospital staff and patients who had contact with Pruden were tested for the coronavirus, and all test results were negative.

In his statement, Jaquis said he is "deeply saddened by this news, but not surprised. As emergency physicians, we know the risks of our calling. We stand united with our colleagues and our thoughts and prayers for a full and speedy recovery are with each of them and their families."

Washington Emergency Physician

The other case involves an emergency medicine physician in his 40s who works for EvergreenHealth, the hospital system in Kirkland, Washington, that has treated more than 100 patients from the Life Care nursing home. That nursing home is the epicenter of the state's COVID-19 outbreak.

In a statement issued March 15, the hospital said, "EvergreenHealth is providing care for one of our physicians who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. He is in critical condition but stable. Out of respect for our patient's privacy and that of his family, there is nothing more we can share at this time."

Today, EvergreenHealth spokesperson Julia Irwin told Medscape Medical News that there was "no update to share at this time beyond what we initially shared" on March 15.

Jaquis said it is currently unclear whether this case in Washington was a result of occupational transmission or community-based spread.

"The hospital was acutely aware of the COVID-19 risk to health care workers and has worked closely with the CDC to ensure the appropriate policies and procedures are in place to mitigate risk. This emergency physician complied at all times with appropriate PPE [personal protective equipment] procedures," said Jaquis.

The ACEP isn't keeping a count of COVID-19 cases among its members, but the organization is concerned for the health and well-being of emergency physicians and all of the workers on the front lines.

"Severe" Shortages of Protective Gear

An ACEP spokesperson told Medscape Medical News, "Emergency physicians and frontline health workers currently face severe shortages of personal protective equipment, like N95 masks, gowns, and eye wear, that will leave many insufficiently protected. We need to take action now to fill this gap with every resource we have available, including from the Strategic National Stockpile."

"Rest assured ACEP will continue working tirelessly at the national level to ensure our members are safe. We remain in contact with CDC, Congress, regulatory agencies and other key decision-makers to do all we can to protect patients, physicians and emergency personnel," Jaquis added in his statement.

The ACEP provides online resources for COVID-19 physicians, including clinical guidance and best practices.

Clinicians across the United Stats are petitioning the federal government to follow the lead of South Korea, China, and other nations by imposing an immediate nationwide quarantine to slow the inevitable spread of COVID-19, as reported by Medscape Medical News. Without federal action, the petitioners say, their lives and the lives of their colleagues, patients, and families are being put at increased risk.

In addition to the quarantine, the petition, posted on the website, calls on US leaders to institute emergency production and distribution of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and to rapidly increase access to testing.

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