Reflections from the Battle Lines

Medical faculty members are fighting to keep our communities safe.
By Teena Chopra

This article is part of a series, "Reflections on Faculty Life in a Pandemic." 

COVID-19 has challenged us all physically, intellectually, and emotionally. For medical faculty members like me, the past six months have presented unexpected scenarios, unanticipated emergencies, and uniquely challenging logistics.

When the pandemic struck, I suddenly found myself wearing many hats—an infectious disease physician serving on the front lines, an epidemiologist tracking the deadly virus, a team leader ensuring the safety of hospital staff and all health-care providers, a rounding physician worrying about patients on the medicine floors, and a teacher keeping up the morale of the residents and fellows. I spent many sleepless nights thinking anxiously about my community and workforce.

Tackling the contagion in Detroit, a city with a predominantly underserved population, presented particular challenges. Detroit has seen a COVID-19 tsunami. Medical workers had to adapt quickly to an ever-changing scenario with multiple challenges—not only managing patients but also preventing spread to the uninfected. As the days and nights blurred together, we found ourselves dealing with a lot of unknowns about COVID-19.

On the front lines, the nation dealt with shortages of personal protective equipment, test kits, ventilators, and hospital beds. In the acute phase of the spring surge in cases, our team raced against time to wage this war against COVID-19, modifying our strategy by the hour. The virus is a mighty opponent—deadly and deceiving.

However, I believe that we are stronger together.

Here at Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center (DMC), we are a formidable force. I see the finest examples of teamwork in our hospital staff—greeters, nurses, medical assistants, technicians, food-services staff, environmental-services staff, doctors, and so many more. I learned a lesson in kindness from every member of my Wayne State and DMC family.

Our leadership took many exemplary steps in the initial phases of this pandemic. We were one of the first hospital systems in the country to mandate universal masking. The mask mandate was part of an effort to protect our most valuable asset—our hospital staff, who worked tirelessly for a community that was particularly vulnerable to rapid spread of the infection. Providing scrubs to our workforce, food on-site for all trainees, universal testing for pregnant women, and serological testing for children were some of the other measures we took early on. These measures set the tone for our response to the pandemic.

We collaborated with public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in developing our response to the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, which were epicenters of the outbreak. Multiple factors, including immunosenescence, lack of mobility, and frequent colonization with multidrug-resistant organisms in elderly patients, contributed to the alarmingly high rates of COVID-19 in nursing homes. As a result of our initiative, nursing homes began testing residents daily, limited visitors, enforced aggressive hygiene measures with a focus on hands, and encouraged distancing among residents. We continue to work with nursing homes to establish the safest possible environment for residents.

Detroit, a city with 36 percent of its population living below the poverty line, many uninsured people, poor access to transportation, high rates of homelessness, and widespread mistrust of the health-care system, was a perfect playground for COVID-19. Without timely measures by health-care professionals, however, the devastation would have been much worse.

With my medical faculty colleagues and others on our team, I continue this battle to keep my community safe. We galvanize our efforts daily, consolidate our resources, and try to identify gaps in the health-care system that we can help bridge. Our experiences with COVID-19 in the spring have taught us lessons in preparedness that we will carry into the fall and beyond. Together, we are strong enough to fight this contagion.

Teena Chopra is professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Wayne State University and the corporate medical director of hospital epidemiology, infection prevention, and antibiotic stewardship at Detroit Medical Center. Dr. Chopra has championed the COVID-19 pandemic response at Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center. She is serving on the university president’s COVID-19 task force and public health committee.