Even before he begins his interview on Sunday March 29, 2020, about how Indian-American physicians are coping with COVID-19 in New Jersey, Dr. Pradip Shah, an infectious disease specialist, says he wants to talk about issues within the Indian-American community — rumor-mongering online, a less than perfect response to keeping the 6 feet distance, and rushing for cures offered on the Web.
Desi Talk interviewed Dr. Shah over one week, first on March 22, then 25, and again on 29th, to observe what changes had taken place over that period of time in his various places of work.
“The Indian community must self-quarantine as I am getting some information that some are not,” Dr. Shah said, giving as an example a family where an 80 year old relative has tested positive but the son does not believe in social distancing.
“When you go for groceries, keep a safe distance, and also, you can order Indian foods from Costco and get it mailed; and we do not need to hoard. Don’t be crazy about this. It’s not the end of the world. Be sensible, nice and considerate. If you don’t eat daal and eat something else for a while, it is not a big deal,” Dr. Shah reprimanded.
“Please do not read … and accept anything – especially from blogs advising people,” about various cures for corona virus,” he pleaded. “Nobody knows this virus. If anybody says they have a cure, don’t listen – in one ear and out the other,” he advised. “I am not against gurus, but the guru may not know your medical condition.”
He urged Desi Talk to, “Please request all patients not to take any medication unless your own doctor says so. Taking chloroquine can lead to irregular heart beat.” He related the incident of two patients coming into his hospital with that condition, one of them of Indian origin, who “almost died.”
“We revived them. They are okay now,” he reassured. A malaria medication which combines chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine is being tested worldwide by many companies and the World Health Organization.
“There is much rumor in Indian community that people are dying left and right in our hospital,” he says referring to the JFK Medical Center. “That is completely wrong,” Dr. Shah asserted. As of March 28, there had been only 3 deaths, and none of those patients were of Indian origin, and all three had underlying immune conditions or co-morbidity, he said.
When interviewed on March 22, Dr. Shah had just got out of his hospital and had mentioned how many patients were coming in and restructuring of procedures were ongoing and no visitors allowed. He also had said that masks were not yet short of supply. By March 25, Dr. Shah said both masks and Personal Protective Equipment, PPEs, were in short supply and reuse was being considered; retired doctors were being requested to come back. “It is deteriorating every day. We are coping with stress including equipment failure, not enough personnel, and healthcare workers getting sick.”
But by March 29, 2020, the situation appears to have stabilized, according to Dr. Shah, who has been working way more than usual. He wanted to get done with the interview quickly, he said, as he had to go to work at the hospital.
“Now we are getting test results very quickly. And we have streamlined treatment (at the hospital). We give surgical masks to all (healthcare workers) but every hospital (including his) gives N95 masks to only those taking care of proven or suspected COVID-19 cases,” Dr. Shah noted. Now three layers of protective gear have to be worn by those treating positive cases so as to permit reuse.
While he and his daughter Dr. Pooja Shah, who is also an infectious disease specialist, have divided their work among the three hospitals they go to take care of patients, they have closed their clinic and practice telemedicine with their patients.
“Everybody is waging a war against this virus. We have to battle with it,” Dr. Shah says. For his telemedicine patients, he is able to see them online, ask about their fever, and advise them not to go to hospital unless they experience shortness of breath.
“This disease has changed the rules of the medical professional. It has made all lives and economies upside down,” he noted. And while there is no cure yet, he says a couple of medications are being tried, including one from Gilead Sciences. His daughter Dr. Pooja Shah, has received approval to be part of the study and use Remdisivir, he said.
The Chairman and CEO of Gilead, Daniel O’Day, in a March 28, 2020, ‘Open Letter’ posted on the website, gilead.com, says the company began to investigate the potential of remdesivir, a medicine it had been studying for many years as part of its research into antivirals. And to stop up research, the company has been “working at unprecedented speed to enroll patients in clinical trials.”
In January the World Health Organization had said Remdisivir was the most promising drug to date and the international organization is today involved in a global randomized study for four potential drugs to counter COVID-19. The U.S. National Institutes of Health is among several entities investigating Remdisivir’s efficacy since February 25, according to a press release.