Eric Semmel is an example of one of the brave individuals at the frontline of the COVID-19 outbreak, working to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Semmel works as a medical practitioner who examines people in a clinical setting for medical concerns. Lately, these concerns include the carrying of the COVID-19 disease.
Semmel has worked with patients displaying symptoms of the coronavirus, among which include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. The organization which Semmel works with provides him with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in efforts to minimize his chances of contracting the virus.
“We, as health care workers, have to be as careful as possible, because if we get the coronavirus, we can’t work for at least two weeks, in a setting where we need to be on the front line of evaluating and helping people who have a medical issue and also potentially could have the virus,” Semmel said. “In other words, what good am I toward doing my part, if I am sidelined for two weeks?”
Semmel has been provided with a variety of PPE and has the option of dressing in something that looks like a hazmat suit, which he used for the first two weeks. He later found the hazmat-like suit to be too loud due to the positive-pressure filtered-air machine and is now using an N95 mask. There is a current shortage of N95 masks, but since it is covered with two outer layers, Semmel is able to reuse the mask as opposed to disposing of it after each use with new patients.
He covers the N95 mask with a more commonly used surgical mask, then he wears a transparent plastic face shield over that. He explained how his body and hands are also fully protected with gloves and a plastic suit, both of which are disposed of after seeing each patient.
“It is hardly a stretch to say [the coronavirus] hitting the United States the way it has, is causing a huge impact. Obviously the loss of life to the elderly and other people with vulnerable medical conditions is foremost in our hearts and minds, but then there is the devastating economic impact that is taking effect, that looks to be right on par with the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Semmel said. “I don’t fault people like Texas Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, who two weeks ago said he’d risk his life for the sake of the American economy. I actually weighed and considered that concept myself, but ultimately came to the conclusion that the loss of life to hundreds of thousands — perhaps a million people … is just too steep a price to pay if we just went on with business as usual … I now wish we just started this shut down sooner and quicker, and at most probably we would have had better containment of this virus.”
In addition to the medical repercussions, Semmel discussed that the mental health impacts at this time have the potential to impact many people and encourages anyone to seek help.
“Despite supporting the national effort to keep people home, I do sympathize [with the] significant decrease [in] quality of life for children and young adults, which may last for months,” Semmel said.
Semmel suggested seeking counseling by telephone or online video.
“From my front line perspective, many people are in need of it,” Semmel commented of mental health resources.
Semmel strongly encourages social distancing. In terms of ensuring safety, and clearing the virus, he explained, “It is becoming obvious that social distancing and avoiding going out in public is crucial to slowing down this pandemic … at this point, practicing physical distancing has been instituted on a wide scale, so let’s just do it and do it right.”
Semmel also explained how, unfortunately, there is no certain answer to the question of when the COVID-19 pandemic will be over. He emphasized the significance of these two weeks and roughly estimates the situation to wane over the next two months. Semmel also mentioned the possibility of re-infection or a second wave which some scientists are concerned about.
“Since COVID-19 is a new phenomenon, no one can really determine whether a second wave will happen,” Semmel said.
Within the past week, medical professionals have begun speaking about performing antibody tests for people who think they have never had COVID-19 to test if a sector of the population is building up immunity, which may help determine when people can return to work and resume public life.