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"The Greatest Challenge is the Unknown"

Social-isolation practices during the coronavirus pandemic can help keep medical providers healthy and on the job. (AdobeStock)
Social-isolation practices during the coronavirus pandemic can help keep medical providers healthy and on the job. (AdobeStock)
March 30, 2020

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Today is National Doctor's Day, but there's little time to celebrate for doctors on the front lines of a global pandemic.

There are more than 16,000 active physicians in Missouri, including University of Missouri Health Care Emergency Doctor Christopher Sampson. He said one of the greatest challenges for medical providers in the coronavirus response is the anticipation of the unknown.

"In Central Missouri, we have still not seen the spike in patients that they're seeing in New York and New Orleans and Detroit," Sampson said. "So we're waiting for that to come to us."

Doctors and nurses from around the world are posting pictures on social media of themselves holding a sign that reads, "We stay at work for you; you stay at home for us." And Sampson agrees that practicing social distancing is the best way to protect medical providers and the community at large.

"We've already lost health care providers in New York City, especially in Italy and China as well," he said. "When physicians on the front lines become ill, it becomes challenging to take care of the patients themselves."

He added that Missourians also can reduce the spread of COVID-19 by staying at home when sick, washing hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes.

The United States is now leading the world in cases of COVID-19, and cases in Missouri are climbing by the day. Sampson said social distancing is crucial to reducing pressure on the medical system, but noted it will take time to see the results.

"It's hard to see in the initial period whether it makes a difference. That's where people get confused," he said. "We've seen in other areas that early implementation is probably the best because it helps to push the curve down but sometimes it takes weeks and weeks before you're going to notice that difference."

Sampson said there also are concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment. So far, state emergency officials have spent $17 million on gloves, surgical masks, hand sanitizers and other supplies. And more than 4 million N-95 respirators have been purchased.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MO