Infectious disease specialist Dr. Mitchell Blass, who is treating COVID-19 patients at Emory Saint Joseph’s and Northside hospitals, shares his level head about protection, treatment and the slippery political slope.
Blass attended Greenfield Hebrew Academy (now Atlanta Jewish Academy), Riverwood high school, and Emory University for undergraduate, medical school and specialty training. He is seeing patients with “other” illnesses. “It sounds crazy that I was happy to see a case of syphilis last week!” More importantly, Blass addresses the “What about the future” question: “It may be, even after the vaccine, we will live with, on some level, the possibility of infection as we do with other “initially scary” diseases. This is all fluid. The models we see today may not be correct tomorrow.”
Blass weighs in on the health crisis:
Jaffe: Has your practice changed?
Blass: Yes, remarkably. Virtually all elective non-emergent patients have been postponed. My outpatient volume has dropped precipitously. We now offer telemedicine follow-ups, which patients enjoy. Telemedicine has its limitations but is extremely useful. In the hospital, I have consulted on many patients with COVID-19.
Jaffe: Have you yourself been tested?
Blass: Not yet. I have limited my direct exposure and not developed symptoms that require testing.
Jaffe: Do you wear full PPE (personal protective equipment)?
Blass: During direct encounters with COVID-19 patients, I do wear PPE. We have a staff member at the hospital who watches the healthcare provider put on PPE and an observer watching the provider remove PPE. The purpose is to provide an independent observer to assure, to the best of our ability, that there are no protection lapses.
We are limiting direct contact. I may see the patient through the glass window into their room. I speak on the phone to gather an interval history: Are there any new symptoms today? Are any of your previous symptoms better? I then speak to the patient’s nurse and other doctors and review the recent vitals, labs, X-rays. I review notes of individuals who have personally laid hands onto the patient (old school term for a “physical examination.”) If, from this, I can offer consultative recommendations, I will. If there is something to be gained by entering the room, then I will don and doff PPE to perform my own physical examination.
Jaffe: Were you shocked about the devolvement of COVID-19?
Blass: I am not surprised that a viral pandemic occurred over the course of my career. It is what I trained for. The specific details can never be predicted. Could another pandemic occur in the future? Of course, it can and likely will.
אין חדש מתחת השמיים. There is nothing new under the sun.
Jaffe: What is your recommendation for properly cleaning gloves?
Blass: Gloves are not substitutes for proper hand hygiene. I worry that people think that gloves have a magical property to prevent spread. They don’t! If you wear the same gloves throughout the store, touch your car keys, steering wheel, soda can, you may feel good about your “prevention.” Unfortunately, this virus doesn’t care about your feelings. I cannot repeat this enough: “there is no substitute for proper and frequent hand hygiene!”
Jaffe: Vaccine roll out?
Blass: It’s a work in progress. In general, this takes years. I am concerned that a substantial portion of individuals for whom, once an effective and safe vaccine is readily available, won’t take it. If history repeats itself, there will also be a subgroup who will argue against vaccinating for safety concerns, civil liberties or conspiracy theories.
Jaffe: What should we all take away from this?
Blass: I hope is that this will be a wakeup call to spend more time with the people you cherish and doing things you enjoy. I pray it will silence egos and awaken the soul of our great nation.
Remove politics from the equation. A huge problem for our government: like the president or not.
If pandemic COVID kills many because of a perceived lack of action by the administration, it will be the focus of blame for the deaths.
If efforts to control pandemic COVID are successful and less die, then the administration will be blamed for forcing draconian restrictions.
Jaffe: Leave us with good news.
Blass: In the end, with G-d’s help, it will all be OK.
Dr. Blass is board certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Georgia Infectious Diseases, PC, in Dunwoody.