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A Look At Seattle, The City At Epicenter Of The Coronavirus Outbreak In The U.S.


Seattle is currently the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Most of the deaths associated with the virus have been traced to a suburban nursing home there. Microsoft and Amazon, major local employers, are curtailing travel and urging telework. Colleges are canceling in-person classes, and we're now going to check in with how hospitals and health workers are coping.

Brandon Fainstad is an internist at a hospital just south of Seattle, and he joins us now. Thank you so much for being with us.


BRANDON FAINSTAD: My pleasure, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me a little bit about how things have been. Have you been in contact with a COVID-19 patient?

FAINSTAD: Sure. Yeah, I haven't been personally taking care of the one COVID-positive patient that we've confirmed at our hospital. And for obvious reasons, it's been a bit chaotic at our hospital, mostly around trying to consolidate information and policy as we're learning more and more every day and trying to adjust. It's creating a lot of uncertainty.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I can imagine. And explain a little bit about what's been happening at home.

FAINSTAD: Yeah, my wife is a primary care doctor in Seattle. And she had new symptoms that would be potentially consistent with COVID-19 and, following UW and CDC guidelines, has remained away from work and probably won't return until at least 24 to 72 hours after the cough resolves.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Has she been tested?

FAINSTAD: No. That's been a real struggle. She's young and healthy. We're not concerned about her health. We're not concerned about the health of our kids and myself. But we want to be careful about participating in the spread of the virus. We don't want to be vector within our community, and we certainly don't want to expose our vulnerable patients. So it's nice to know whether you're positive because you can be even more rigorous with your quarantine practice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was reading a report from The New York Times that 40 health care workers who came into contact with one patient who may have tested positive for COVID-19 went into quarantine - 40 health care workers. And that seems to me to be unsustainable and could jeopardize the resilience of the health care system.

FAINSTAD: Yeah, I think that is a very real concern that we have. And we don't want to have a disproportionate response to a positive test. And I think that probably plays into the calculus of our hospital systems deciding to or to not broadly test, even if there were testing perfectly available. And we just don't know enough about how infectious it is at the pre-symptomatic, symptomatic or post-symptomatic periods. And I agree with you - COVID-19 is a real concern. But to be honest, there is a lot of non-COVID-19 health needs in our community. And we don't want to reduce our health care staff capacity at the risk of not being able to help people with other conditions.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you surprised by how this has really shown some weaknesses in the American health care system?

FAINSTAD: Yes. It's, in many ways, a perfect storm. Our government response obviously hasn't satisfied the immediate needs of our population, and I think that could probably be viewed more than one way. You know, it could be demonstrating the limits of centralized government. But at the same time, the CDC has been defunded over years, and a centralized response to an epidemiologic threat like this is only as good as the policy's staffing and funding behind it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how's your wife doing? When do you think she might be able to be tested?

FAINSTAD: Yeah. You know, I don't know. UW virology lab reported just yesterday that they're capable of testing a thousand people a day. And then - you know, that very well may be true from a lab standpoint. But from a point-of-care standpoint, it hasn't happened. And there's staffing and resource limitations outside of what the lab itself can do. So I don't know. I wish I did.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Dr. Brandon Fainstad speaking to us from near Seattle.

Thank you very much.

FAINSTAD: You're welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.