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Houston doctor calls COVID-19 the hurricane and flood no one can see

Coronavirus presents challenges that go beyond what we faced during Hurricane Harvey.

HOUSTON — COVID19 feels like Hurricane Harvey to Houston-born and raised family physician Dr. Troy Fiesinger.

“Before Harvey, I thought, ‘OK, it's a hurricane, maybe [we’ll] lose power. No big deal. Life goes on,’” Dr. Fiesinger said. “And then my house flooded, and my family and I had to literally walk out of our house through floodwaters.”

Fiesenger says to him, COVID19 is the hurricane and flood no one can see.

“It's been a month now. We're not even at the floodwaters have receded stage where we can start rebuilding,” he said.

Dr. Fiesinger is an experienced physician who worked during the AIDS epidemic. He said COVID19 presents different challenges.

“This is back when AIDS was a death sentence. There was no cure. Drawing blood was dangerous. But we knew how to handle that,” Dr. Fiesenger said.

“We always had all the equipment needed, even at an overburdened county hospital,” he added. “This epidemic makes that look like a far milder event than it was at the time, this epidemic is far scarier.”

The coronavirus has affected every single aspect of the large practice Dr. Fiesinger is a part of. One hundred doctors, 15 clinics across greater Houston.

One of the services the practice offers is comprehensive home care, or house calls for the elderly, frail and sick.

“They want to be healthy they want to be happy and our goal is to keep them home healthy and happy,” he said. “They don't want to be admitted to hospital. They don't want to go to the emergency room. So, this team of nurse practitioners and physician assistants then will provide a huge amount of care that they need.”

Dr. Fiesinger estimates 500 patients need this type of service. He says during this struggle with COVID19, his team has to choose essentially who is sick enough to get a visit, because the clinics don’t have enough personal protective equipment like gowns and masks to safely treat at home, everyone who needs it.

“Due to the limitations of personal protective equipment, we can only do so many a week, literally before we run out of equipment,” Dr. Fiesinger said. “It's incredibly frustrating. It's not at all the way I want to practice medicine, to run this program in any way, shape or form. And I've never had to. Triage patients in this way, ever.”

Dr. Fiesinger said the biggest limitations are gowns and masks. The practice has been ordering extra supplies for over a month, but shipments have been delayed and the clinics don’t get as much as they need.

Dr. Fiesinger did say that a shipment of gowns was expected the week of April 21.

He said every doctors’ office is competing with every urgent care, emergency room, hospitals, ordering from the same suppliers. This creates shortages and price hikes, according to Dr. Fiesinger, prices are already five to 10 times what they usually are.

“All we're asking for is the tools and equipment to do our jobs,” Dr. Fiesinger said. “If we're talking about relaxing restrictions to reopening the economy. Fundamental question has to be asked, ‘how many lives is the economy worth?’”

In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Governor Greg Abbott told reporters that in the past week the state distributed millions of pieces of personal protective equipment, including masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.

On Friday, the Governor said the state had a “steady” supply of PPEs.

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“I think our city and county leaders in Houston have done a great job responding,” Dr. Fiesinger said. “I think there is a failure of executive leadership of the state and national level. The failure to understand the gravity of the problem. Failure to respond as quickly as we needed them to respond. And a failure to coordinate the response the way it needs to be coordinated.”

“They'd have to have millions and millions of supplies on hand to help us all,” he added. “So, they're not able to. This is a war and it needs to be treated like a war.”

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some patients also have nausea, body aches, headaches and stomach issues. Losing your sense of taste and/or smell can also be an early warning sign.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Follow social distancing

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

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