During the last few months, the public has received an overwhelming amount of information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous groups have offered a variety of opinions and guidance to address this global crisis, some with inaccurate or potentially misleading information. As the largest organization representing physicians in the state of Arizona, we, the Arizona Medical Association, feel a responsibility as Arizona physicians to speak directly to the public and provide our guidance during these tumultuous times. As leaders of healthcare teams taking care of patients, we bring a uniquely qualified, firsthand perspective on strategies to handle this pandemic.
As an initial matter, one thing is clear: the importance of diagnostic testing in epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response cannot be overstated. Robust testing with quick results is vital to identify potentially infectious carriers of the virus, many of whom may not have symptoms but can spread the disease to others by simply talking or breathing. Currently, serology testing for antibodies seen after an infection is still being investigated and has been plagued with inaccuracies like false positive and false negative results. Furthermore, there is no assurance that a positive antibody test indicates protection from infection.
We believe Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) should continue encouraging robust testing at all sites and we appreciate their recent testing “blitz.” Yet more needs to be done. We are concerned about the recent increase in Arizona COVID case numbers: jumping to about 1,000 new cases per day along with a significant rise in hospitalization and ICU usage. While many factors likely contribute to this surge, including increased testing with the “blitz,” a more troubling factor is the documented relaxation of physical distancing during Memorial Day. Truly, more expansive testing is needed at all levels.
To accomplish this goal – and manage this virus – we need everyone to be engaged and involved. We need to ensure adequate testing supplies (including swabs and test kits) for anyone who wants a test and get results in a rapid fashion. We need hospitals to continue to provide real-time data to ADHS and identify trends in supply shortages well in advance for corrective actions to be taken, keeping our frontline healthcare team with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
We also need you, the public!
Everyone must be willing to be tested for COVID-19. Many COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic. So, while you may not feel sick, you may increase the risk of spreading the virus to other, more vulnerable people. This is a danger that must be addressed.
If there is one message we can give to you, it is this: we assure you this pandemic is real. We see it every day. We need your help protecting everyone from this pandemic. The patient/physician relationship is a partnership – we do our part to make sure you, the patient, is happy and healthy, but you must do your part, and we implore you to heed medical advice, just as you would in any other health emergency. Your actions, or lack thereof, can put others at risk, including your loved ones, your friends, your neighbors, and your healthcare workers.
We all need to be working together to combat this pandemic. To learn more, please visit our COVID-19 page at http://www.azmed.org/page/coronavirus.
Ross F. Goldberg, MD, is President of the Arizona Medical Association.