NYC emergency doctor on frontlines of coronavirus pandemic: Severity of symptoms 'really kicked up a notch'

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Dr. Anjali Bharati, an emergency medicine physician at Northwell Health in New York City, said on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday that the volume of emergency cases related to the novel coronavirus has “definitely gone down” this week, however, the severity of the symptoms has “really kicked up a notch.”

“I work at a small free-standing ER in downtown Manhattan, in Greenwich Village. We’ve definitely seen a change from last week to this week,” Bharati said. “Overall, our volume of our general emergency cases has definitely gone down and the majority of the cases that we’re seeing are complications or illness from the coronavirus.”

She then went on to describe what she thinks is “alarming,” explaining that two weeks ago when doctors in her emergency room “first started to see the cases, we were surprised by the spectrum of illness.”

Bharati, speaking via Skype, said doctors thought “it was mostly an upper respiratory illness.”

“We did see patients with some pneumonia and some GI symptoms as well, but this week that's really kicked up a notch in terms of the severity and the frequency with which patients are coming in,” Bharati said.

“The patients that had mild symptoms of the virus last week are coming in a little bit sicker, a little more progressive in their symptoms and so I think that that is definitely an indication that this viral infection does have some long-lasting symptoms and can get pretty severe.”

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“But it's not a quick severity. It's sort of a long, drawn-out kind of severity that these patients are experiencing,” she added.

New York is currently the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak with more than 30,000 cases statewide and more than 20,000 in the city. Bharati said the emergency room where she works is trying to separate coronavirus patients in the hope of preventing other patients from contracting COVID-19.

“We are trying to separate patients based on their symptoms and whether we think they have the coronavirus but, the truth is that because the spectrum of illness is so wide at this point, we are questioning and questioning again whether we really think this patient doesn't have it,” Bharati said on Thursday.

“Two weeks ago we were sort of thinking more like, ‘Oh well, do they have it? Do they not have it?’ But this week I think we’re thinking that most people that present for emergency services they do have the virus.”

Bharati also explained what the Manhattan emergency room is doing to conserve personal protective equipment given the shortage due to the coronavirus outbreak. She said medical personnel are reusing protective face masks.

“At my facility, we are being very, very mindful and very, very practical on our use of personal protective equipment,” she said.

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She added, “We are really trying to make a concerted effort to be conservative” in order to maximize the supply of masks that they have. She said that includes trying to “minimize the number of staff going into a room to care for a patient.”