Renown CEO Tony Slonim talks about supplies, testing in a press conference with media on March 24, 2020 Reno Gazette Journal
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For 16 years, Dr. Eric Nielsen has been inside emergency rooms. A Reno native and graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno Medical School, he works in the same hospital where he was born.
Nielsen is part of the Northern Nevada Emergency Physicians group, which staffs Renown Health hospitals. The group of 65 doctors will be on the front lines of the coronavirus battle in the coming weeks and months.
“We are planning and getting prepared,” said Karen Massey, the group’s executive director.
Nielsen said of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Northern Nevada is just starting. “It’s like waiting for a slow train wreck.”
When Nielsen recently put his thoughts on Facebook, he wasn’t sure anyone would see it. But his post has been shared thousands of times.
“I didn’t even know what that meant when people said it was going viral,” he said.
Given the significance of his message as the Northern Nevada community fights the threat of coronavirus, the Reno Gazette Journal is running his message in full here:
‘This virus isn’t coming to a town near you. It is here. In our hometown’
I’m an ER doc in Reno. I feel compelled to share these thoughts with my community because we have a fleeting opportunity to actually flatten our curve.
I like sappy cliches as much as a flat tire. But the truth is, the only way we’re going to make it through this crisis is working together as a community.
This is happening.
We just had our first deaths from COVID-19 in Reno. Diseases like this don’t ever happen in the US, let alone here, right?
When my brother-in-law in Santa Clara texted me about their first case 3 months ago it was hardly a blip on my radar. He asked me if he should be worried and I chuckled “Oh, the Wuhan Clan virus?”
No one is laughing now.
The international community reported data about this new coronavirus I didn’t want to believe. A nagging question lingered in the back of my mind.
“So you’re saying this virus is more infective than the flu, it spreads with a simple cough or breath, and we have no prior immunity, treatment, or vaccine?”
Oh, I forgot to mention its death rate may be somewhere around 1-2 percent. But Italy’s experience is even more terrifying. More than 10 percent of their confirmed cases have died.
It’s just human nature to deny facts that make you uncomfortable. Experts predict that 25-40 percent of our population could contract COVID-19. Do the math. At some point the truth becomes undeniable. This virus isn’t coming to a town near you. It is here. In our hometown.
Our local hospitals and medical community have been tirelessly preparing for months for this. We understood that if a disease like this takes hold in our community the consequences could be devastating. Hundreds and maybe thousands could die in our county alone. While we are working night and day to prepare for this crisis, concerned citizens are asking, “what can we do to help?”
So many Northern Nevadans have reached out to support our hospitals. They are sewing masks, donating personal protective equipment, and delivering food to the emergency department. The outpouring of support has been great and will continue to be needed as we face this crisis as a community.
The truth is, this isn’t just our battle, it’s everyone’s.
How our community fulfills their responsibility as citizens is more important than anything we will be doing at the hospital.
How is that possible?
We have to understand the nature of this disease and how it entered and will spread in Northern Nevada. This invisible germ most certainly arrived here and began to spread more than a month ago.
Our inability to broadly test for COVID-19 left us in a precarious situation. There is no use assigning blame or pointing fingers about the testing situation. We are in the same predicament as everyone else in this country.
Over the past several weeks there have likely been hundreds of COVID-19 infected people in Washoe County that had nothing more than a mild cold. We already know that around 80 percent of infected patients will have very mild and minimal symptoms.
Because of the inability to test these individuals, many of them unfortunately went about their normal business. They were unknowingly exposing and infecting other people. But now we are starting to see some truly ill people and patients are dying. Because the disease is already here and has had time to spread, the number of both mild unrecognized cases and critically ill patients is going to accelerate quickly, as in doubling every few days.
It has begun…
Reno has been blessed with hopefully just enough time for our hospitals to prepare for our local surge of COVID-19. Our local and state governments were aware of the situation as well.
They implemented mandatory social distancing, closed the schools, and shut businesses down. Social distancing is a painful process, but it will be nothing compared to the pain of a steep climb up this disease curve. The 20 percent of infected patients that require hospitalization or a ventilator could be in trouble. Our hospitals may not have the surge capacity to successfully treat the sickest patients if they start arriving all at once. The goal is to spread the disease burden out over a manageable level of time so our hospitals can care for everyone.
That’s where our community comes in.
We are all going to be asked to do things we are not comfortable with. Working from home or not working, homeschooling, not going out to eat, and not being able to gather with friends and family to give them a hug — the emotional, economic and financial burden is real.
This is hard! We are only two weeks into this, and it’s already getting old. The truth is, this is just starting. This will be a marathon, not a sprint. We have to rely on ourselves, there’s no Navy medical ship coming anytime soon.
Flatten the curve…
The better we comply with social distancing, the better chance our community has to flatten our curve. So how do we do it?
- WASH YOUR HANDS.
- SIX FEET SAVES LIVES.
- DO NOT GATHER.
- STOP HOARDING.
- STAY HOME.
Six feet to stay safe is not just a catchphrase, they are words to live by for the next few months.
Use technology to stay in touch with family and friends. Digital happy hour anyone?
Foot tap when you greet a friend. Listen to scientists and medical experts rather than the 24 hour news cycle. Help a neighbor.
Make a conscious effort to protect our elderly and people with underlying medical conditions. If you feel like you’re getting sick, stay home and avoid others. If you catch this infection, you are quarantined. Take it as seriously as walking around with a loaded gun. If you feel like you’re getting very sick then seek medical help.
Everyone can contribute
We’re not just prepping our intensive care units and disaster planning in the emergency department, we are already setting up an array of telemedicine options to care for our community. We are generating networks to check on and help quarantined individuals and ways to monitor infected patients from home.
Let’s stay calm and focused. The healthcare providers on the front lines are begging you to take this as seriously as we do. As citizens it is our duty to do this for our parents, friends, colleagues and children.
Let’s do this for the most vulnerable among us. Most importantly, let’s do it for our COMMUNITY. There‘s simply no other way. Let’s have the strength, patience and resolve to do this right
We are battle born, let’s get battle ready.
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