Two Emergency Room Doctors Are in Critical Condition With Coronavirus

March 2020

The hospitalizations sharpen fears that the nation’s front-line medical workers could be uniquely vulnerable, a health care organization said.

Emergency rooms are the front lines for hospitals, where patients come in with symptoms but no diagnosis.Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Karen Weise


SEATTLE — Two emergency medicine doctors, in New Jersey and Washington State, are in critical condition as a result of coronavirus, reinforcing concerns that the nation’s front-line medical workers are becoming especially vulnerable to the virus, the American College of Emergency Physicians said.

“A lot of us think that despite everything we do, we will probably be exposed,” said Dr. William Jaquis, the chair of the group. Still, he said, “The first reported case certainly sends a shock wave through the community.”

Emergency rooms represent a busy intake point for hospitals, where patients come in with symptoms but no diagnosis. As the coronavirus spreads during the typical flu season, emergency physicians are triaging large numbers of patients around the country with symptoms that could be the virus.

“As compared to anyone else at a hospital, you are operating with the most incomplete information,” said Dr. Angela Fusaro, an emergency doctor in Atlanta.

One of the ill physicians, a man in his 40s, is a doctor at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Wash., a hospital near Seattle which has seen one of the largest concentrations of cases in the United States.

“EvergreenHealth is providing care for one of our physicians who has a confirmed case of Covid-19. He is in critical condition but stable,” the hospital said in a statement.

Dr. Jaquis said it appeared that the doctor had access to adequate protective equipment. “This was an area with an outbreak, so they were expecting and prepared. That obviously makes us more nervous.”

The other physician, a doctor in his 70s in Paterson, N.J., was also in isolation in intensive care. The doctor led his institution’s emergency preparedness and was admitted to the hospital several days ago with upper respiratory problems, the physicians’ group said.

The nationwide shortage of N-95 protective masks has been concerning to doctors, who increasingly feel the need to use them in more situations to stay safe, Dr. Jaquis said.

Some emergency departments are adapting their facilities to minimize the risk to health care providers and other patients, opening tents to triage patients outside their buildings and creating separate entrances for patients and doctors, who do not typically wear protective gear as they come and go.

Emergency doctors at times must tend to patients before their virus risk is assessed, and may have a need, such as a major injury, that needs urgent attention, Dr. Fusaro said. “Things that might be necessary to stabilize their life are pretty intimate,” she said. “If you have to put in a breathing tube, you are going to be right up against them. You can’t practice that type of medicine from afar.”