Coronavirus South Shore: Health Field Grapples With Unknowns

BROCKTON, MA — Dr. Bruce Kriegel’s specialty is cardiology, but as the new coronavirus crisis deepens, he wonders if he’ll eventually be called on to practice a type of medicine he hasn’t performed since he was a resident, such as internal medicine.

“It’s a completely fluid situation that’s changing day to day and hour to hour,” Kriegel told Patch. “We’re serving our community and serving our country, and I feel privileged to do that. But at the same time, I’m feeling unsettled.”

What worries Kriegel most are the unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 virus and how quickly it could spread.

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“I’m more worried about what could happen if this becomes rapidly out of control and we don’t have ventilators that we are going to need and equipment that we are going to need,” he said.

Kriegel said he worked through outbreaks of other diseases such as H1N1 flu and Ebola, but COVID-19 with all its unknowns reminds him more of the HIV crisis of the 1980s.

“I started as a resident during the HIV epidemic,” he said. “To me, this feels more about that because we also didn’t really know anything about HIV.”

And Kriegel is concerned about the additional exposure risk he faces, a concern shared by many in the medical field.

Jean Cochran of Norton, a medical receptionist in Kriegel’s practice, has been talking with her three children about those risks.

“It occurred to me the first time this morning: Should I be wearing gloves? If not now, soon?” Cochran said. “I check patients in when they come into the practice. It’s common for me to collect money for copays. I sometimes have to have them sign documents. I’m passing pens and money.

“Each day, I’m becoming more and more aware and maybe a little more nervous,” she said. “I hate to use that word, because I’m generally not a nervous person.”

Robin Brides of Middleboro is a cardiac echo sonographer at a Brockton-area hospital. She said she is trying to live a normal life by going out to eat and spending time with her 85-year-old father after work.

But as a medical professional, that requires her to take extra precautions, because her job requires physical contact with patients during ultrasound scanning of their hearts. She believes she is more likely to contract the disease than to avoid it.

“If they’re saying people can be contagious two weeks prior to showing symptoms, how am I possibly not going to get it when I’m hand in hand with patients?” Brides asked.

The last time she visited her father, Brides said, “I took a change of clothes and a change of shoes with me. I’ll change out of my scrubs and wash my hands as soon as I get to the house.”

Cochran also said she’s avoiding public places, even if that means putting off normal errands or doing things for fun.

“If I’m going out, I’m kind of just trying to be outdoors or in nature,” she said. “But I have a dentist appointment next week, and I’m not sure I’m even going to go. I haven’t gone out to eat. I wouldn’t go to a concert or a crowded place. I wouldn’t go to a movie, and I love the movies.”

Roni Partosan of Braintree works as a nurse at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge and at the Diplomat Pharmacy, which specializes in infusing medicine for people with no immune system. She worries about misinformation being spread on social media and believes media coverage has created a lot of fear.

She’s carrying on with her job; caring for sick people is the reason she became a nurse in the first place.

Partosan also is trying to live as normally as possible. She still plans to travel to Punta Cana next month, and she’s not asking her kids to stop playing sports or any other activities. But she is asking that they take extra precautions such as opening doors with their sleeves, sneezing into their elbows and washing or sanitizing hands frequently.

“This one you have to be more vigilant because of the transmission of it,” Partosan told Patch. “I’m more aware of my surroundings and what I put on for equipment. The scary part is nobody knows who has it.”

The latest on coronavirus in Massachusetts and around the world

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that include the common cold as well as much more serious diseases. The strain that emerged in China in late 2019, called COVID-19, is related to others that have caused serious outbreaks in recent years, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was on Jan. 21.

As of Wednesday there were 95 cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts, including 23 in Norfolk County.

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The disease, which apparently originated in animals, is now being transmitted from person to person, although the mechanism is not yet fully understood. Its symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath, and many patients develop pneumonia. There is as yet no vaccine against COVID-19 and no antiviral treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way of to prevent the disease is to avoid close contact with people who are sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.

To avoid spreading any respiratory illness, the CDC recommends staying at home if you are sick, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throwing the tissue in the trash, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

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