Linden Hills doctor: ‘Our volumes in the emergency department are actually down’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Peter Kumasaka, Linden Hills, Regions Hospital ER doctor

Peter Kumasaka

I live in Linden Hills and work at Regions Hospital in the Emergency Department. We’re certainly on high alert about everything but most cases have not been COVID positive. We’re not testing everyone obviously because we have limited supplies, so we may be having more than we know. So there’s an unknown denominator of how much COVID is really out there.

Some of the symptoms can be very minimal or minor, so when people come in with certain complaints, like a cough or feeling feverish, or feeling week or shortness of breath — we are prioritizing them and triaging them in a certain pathway. 

A lot of them are getting pushed into a room to be evaluated. As I approach those patients, I gown up with protective equipment, which we wouldn’t have done without the specter of the COVID virus. A lot of times we’ll talk to them through the doorway. That’s what’s causing some of the strain on the supply of equipment. 

Our volumes in the emergency department are actually down because people are heeding the whole stay-away recommendations. If the volumes go up, we’ll feel a shortage of personal protective equipment. At HealthPartners, we have about a week’s supply of protective equipment on hand for all our sites. We have face shields we’ll wipe down and reuse. Unless we’re doing an aerosolized procedure like an intubation, we’re only using a surgical mask — not an N95. 

We don’t know exactly how this virus spreads. Some sites in other countries like Italy, where they’ve had the biggest outbreaks and health care workers getting ill, I know health workers are extremely short on supplies — in some cases going in without anything.

Pandemics have not been unexpected. Trump disbanded a panel designed to prepare for something like this. Even when it started spreading worldwide, I think the U.S. was more complacent and didn’t ramp up fast enough to plan for it, despite what we were seeing elsewhere in the world.

I’ve been isolating myself, cleaning my hands with soap and water and being cognizant about social interaction.