In late December 2019 and early 2020, I was seeing a large number of cases of upper respiratory infections in my office. They complained of sore throat, fever, cough and myalgia. At that time, the COVID-19 epidemic was spreading in Wuhan, China. The health authority in our state was describing the epidemic in Wuhan as an illness characterized by shortness of breath, wheezing, and fever. My patients did not have any of these symptoms. When the news of COVID-19 became known, I was then able to test these patients for the virus.
On March 20, 2020, the Illinois governor issued a stay at home order when the number of COVID-19 cases reached over 500, and the death toll was five patients. However, I believe that the pandemic in the Cook County area where my office is located started long before that. In March of 2020, we were informed by the health authorities of our state that there was a pandemic that was called SARS-2, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome 2. In comparison to the epidemic that took place in the year 2012, which was called SARS-1, the latter epidemic took the lives of 12,000 to 18,000 Americans. The virus is from the corona family that causes the common cold and an illness that usually makes people sick for a few days, then they recover. However, SARS-2 causes a severe reaction in the elderly and patients with comorbidities, such as diabetes mellitus, cancer and heart failure.
As a result of the pandemic, all face-to-face visits and procedures were canceled. Patients fearing exposure canceled their appointments. Some hospitals advised physicians to avoid coming to the hospital and making rounds to avoid exposure and spread of the virus. However, by the middle of June the diagnosis and incidents of COVID-19 in my patients came to a halt. I am no longer seeing new cases at the present time. However, there is a large backlog of patients who need to have various procedures done, such as colonoscopies and biopsies. But consultants are not available. Our office is now open but we use high precautions.
We have known about telemedicine, but have not used it due to concerns about lack of effectiveness. But after COVID-19, telemedicine helped diagnose, treat and educate our patients about the pandemic. COVID-19 patients can easily be diagnosed with audio and visual approaches. Once suspected, I can refer these patients promptly to get tested. In the beginning, it took 10 days to get the results. Today it takes one hour. We also test for SARS-2 antibodies, but we learned that it’s a useless test if the onset of COVID-19 symptoms is more than 10 weeks ago.
I believe that the virus, although lethal to some, causes a minor illness to the majority of patients. It has now become less virulent in the summer months, though I am concerned about the virulence at the end of this summer. My fear that there will be a resurgence of cases in the fall with new spread.
Dr. Mansur is a guest writer for InCrowd.