We are in the seventh week of the first outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in the United States. If history is a guide, the infections should peak next week and decline to almost zero over the next six weeks.
That’s the good news. The bad news, and if this pandemic performs like others, over the next 16 to 22 months there will be two more waves, and often the second or third wave has double the number of infections as the first.
How should the United States and the world prepare?
Ventilators can be manufactured rather quickly, as can N-95 masks, face shields, drugs, disposable scrubs and gowns. Indeed every nation should be manufacturing and warehousing these supplies. No one country, or the world, should rely solely on China for these essentials. If for no other reason than if China suffers a second outbreak, it places everyone at unnecessary risk.
The one thing in this worldwide pandemic that is in absolute and critical short supply is trained intensive care unit (ICU) nurses.
Hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 patients and while ICU level equipped rooms are not plentiful, they can be added at an expense, and fairly quickly. What’s not readily available are the nurses to staff them.
It takes six to eight months to train a licensed registered nurse (RN) to operate the equipment, understand the protocols and to function in an ICU environment. The training is labor intensive, and it requires a one-to-one preceptor to student ratio.
As a matter of national priority, every RN graduate from now until this crisis ends should be trained to work in the ICU. Also, RN’s under 35 years of age should be encouraged and paid bonuses to be ICU cross-trained during this emergency.
If we spend the money on our human capital — skilled health care professionals — we can have enough ICU trained nurses ready for when the second or third tsunami of COVID-19 hits.
If we don’t, the entire nation may look like New York.
Social distancing, shutdowns and masks aside, it’s better to be prepared and not need one’s preparations, than to be unprepared and to need them.