After battling to save his patients from the coronavirus, Dr. Peng Yinhua was fighting for his own life at the center of the disease’s outbreak in Wuhan, China.
After making the selfless decision to postpone his wedding to join the doctors on the front line against the deadly virus, and saving countless lives, Peng took his final breaths on the night of Feb. 20. at the center of the disease’s outbreak in Wuhan, China. The invitations for his postponed wedding remained unsent in his desk drawer, according to TODAY.
The tragedy of Peng’s abruptly suspended life is not an isolated case. It represents a single story out of the 3,000 healthcare workers who have been infected by COVID-19.
Based on a new study performed by the Journal of the American Medical Association, 29% of the patients infected by the coronavirus are medical staff in hospitals and other facilities. In one case, a single patient infected at least 10 medical workers.
These alarming statistics highlight a growing threat for not only the medical professionals in Wuhan but healthcare providers across the world who are fighting this outbreak.
“There is a perfect storm of factors contributing to the high rate of healthcare workers who are getting sick. Medical staff are facing shortages of supplies, mounting stress, and fatigue, as well as the fact that the coronavirus is highly contagious,” said nurse Malu Cruz.
Cruz works in the skilled nursing unit of the San Mateo Medical Center, a local community hospital. On March 2, the San Mateo Health Department issued a statement confirming a new case of the coronavirus in the county.
“We all need to prepare for COVID-19 to spread within the United States. Please dust off your personal emergency plans to make sure you have proper provisions at your home, including water, medications, and food,” said San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow.
While officials are taking all the necessary precautions to inform civilians of the difficult circumstances that may follow if the coronavirus evolves into a pandemic, doctors and other healthcare professionals lack the same degree of protection, as they face the disease head-on in their daily lives.
This Saturday, the surgeon general urged the public to stop buying masks and other medical equipment since they’re ineffective against the spread of the virus, but are invaluable to medical professionals who care for sick patients.
“They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams, in a tweet.
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
Some healthcare workers view the government’s shortcomings in terms of adequately protecting them from the coronavirus as part of an ongoing misconception that much of the general public has.
“In times of medical uncertainty, like the situation we are facing with the coronavirus, patients and the public tend to have the misconception that doctors cannot get sick as easily as the rest of us. People forget that we are also human, susceptible to the same illnesses,” Dr. John Martin* said.
Martin, a doctor at a prominent Bay Area hospital, asked for his identity to be kept confidential due to the controversy surrounding the issue of physician protection in coronavirus-prone areas.
This has been a particularly sensitive topic in China, where there are currently eight reported deaths of medical personnel. Among those who lost their lives was ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, a young doctor who passed away while trying to treat patients with the coronavirus.
According to the New York Times, back in December, Li told a group of fellow doctors on Chinese social media site, Weibo, about a series of mysterious viral cases he had observed in his practice. He and seven other doctors tried to sound the alarm about this new coronavirus. Yet, they were reprimanded by the Wuhan police and top medical officials for spreading “illegal and false” information.
Similar to Peng, Li left behind a young family and was expecting his second child at the time of his death.
Wenliang’s untimely death caused an outcry across the globe among those who believed that his and other physicians’ deaths could have been avoided if the Chinese government had heeded the doctor’s warning and taken the necessary precautions, rather than punishing him for what they viewed as criticism. Due to the insufficient research in investigating Li’s discoveries at the beginning of the outbreak, it was unknown that the virus could spread from person-to-person so rapidly.
However, not all are opposed to the government’s methods of dispatching healthcare workers to fight the coronavirus.
Proponents of the Chinese government’s actions are citing the 5,000 yuan (USD$716) compensation that families of healthcare workers will receive if their loved ones pass away in the line of duty. The government also just announced that all doctors and nurses who died while trying to contain the outbreak would officially be designated as “martyrs,” according to CNN.
These new developments have not gone without criticism. Social media users took to Weibo, the same site that Wenliang and fellow whistleblowers used, to voice their opinions
“So the life of a doctor is only worth 5,000 yuan now?” an anonymous user asked.
Despite the polarizing views surrounding the protection of the doctors at the front line against the coronavirus, all can agree that these individuals deserve the utmost honor and respect.
“The medical community is committed to providing our patients with the best care possible, and we will continue to do this,” Cruz said.
*Due to the sensitive nature of the content, this name has been changed to protect the anonymity of the source.