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This ER doctor survived COVID-19. Here’s her advice

New York state has roughly 150,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. That's more than any country in the world other than the United States. Health care workers in New York are feeling the pressure of the pandemic -- as well as concerns for their own wellbeing. Amna Nawaz speaks with Dr. Dara Kass, an emergency medicine physician who has herself tested positive for, and recovered from, COVID-19.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New York state now has roughly 150,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. That is more than any entire country in the world outside the United States.

    Health care workers on the front lines are feeling the pressure acutely, not to mention the concerns for their own risks and for their families.

    Amna Nawaz has our conversation tonight on how that is playing out for an E.R. doctor there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Over three weeks ago, Dr. Dara Kass was working around the clock treating coronavirus patients in a hospital emergency room in New York City, the epicenter of America's outbreak.

    Within days, she developed symptoms herself, and tested positive for the virus. After quarantining at home, she is now recovered. And, this week, returned to the front lines to continue to care for the influx of patients.

    Dr. Dara Kass joins us now from New York City.

    Dr. Kass, let me start by saying, we're all so glad that you are feeling better. We're all so grateful for the work you do.

    But let's start with that. How are you feeling? And describe for us what it was like when you were sick.

  • Dara Kass:

    So, I think, first and foremost, I say all the time that I feel very lucky.

    My symptoms were on the very mild side, but they were very real. So I had muscle aches and fatigue. I had a terrible cough that basically interrupted all of my meetings and speech.

    I had shortness of breath. So, if I was walking from, like, my room to the bathroom, I really had to stop and be, like, 'Am I OK?' And I had a headache that was pretty persistent.

    And there was a point where I was getting better from coronavirus, but I was unsure if I still had the symptoms or I was just replacing it with the anxiety and the panic of everything else going on.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, you're back in the emergency room now. This week was your first shift back.

    Last time you were there, you described it like a pressure cooker. And the situation has changed a lot in New York since then. So tell me what it's like back there today in that emergency room.

  • Dara Kass:

    So, before I went out, and even when I was sick and doing telemedicine, it felt like there was an increasing like background of patients that we knew were at home, but were getting sicker, and we knew they would end up in the E.R.

    And after two or three weeks, we're seeing that level of patient in the E.R. that had been at home, but now 10 days, 12, 14 days into their illness, they come in, they need ventilation, they need support.

    We are still ahead of the curve. And we're seeing that social distancing and other work that we're doing pay off. So, that's probably the most encouraging thing I have seen in the E.R. right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dr. Kass, not just in New York, but really around the country, we have been hearing from front-line health workers about the lack of PPE and ventilators, the things that they need to treat the coronavirus patients.

    Do you have what you need?

  • Dara Kass:

    I think, today, we do. I think that that's important to recognize that, every day, we need new ventilator support, we need more PPE.

    We are using masks and gloves and gowns with every single patient. And it's important that we keep vigilant on procuring the supply chain and getting ventilators from around the country and even from the federal stockpile (AUDIO GAP) New York to continue to meet the need of the patients we have in New York.

    I feel like, for now, for today, we're OK. But, every day, that changes. And we need to continue to be aggressive about making sure that those supplies are available to the front-line staff.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I wanted to ask.

    Before even you got sick, you made a really tough call, which was to send your kids, who are 12 and 10 and 7 years old, away from you to go live with their grandparents in the next state over.

    Why did you do that? How hard a call was that to make?

  • Dara Kass:

    So it was a hard decision to make. And it came to me in a moment.

    And I had known that there was about an 80 percent transmission rate in any given house, and that health care workers were really likely to get infected. And since I have a son who had a liver transplant when he was 2 years old — he's 7 years old now, and he's relatively healthy and looks great — I didn't want to take the chance that they would get this virus from me.

    And so I said to myself, 'Pack them up. They probably like living there better than they like living in my house for a few days. And see what happens.' It's been about a month, and I haven't seen them. There's really no good data on when to come back together, when after you have been infected are you no longer contagious.

    And we're not — we don't have enough testing in New York to test me again negative. So, for now, they live at home, and I live in a hotel, and we will do a Zoom seder tonight for Passover. And that will be just our experiences this year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But you haven't seen your kids in a month. That must be hard.

  • Dara Kass:

    It isn't easy.

    But everybody in this moment is making a sacrifice. And this is mine.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You're in a really unique position, in that you survived the virus, you are now on the front lines of treating people who have it.

    What advice do you have for all the many people out there who are worried about getting it, who may be coping with it themselves, or who are worried about their loved ones?

  • Dara Kass:

    I think that the most important thing I can say is: Take it one day at a time, right?

    Realize that the majority of people that get this virus will do OK, but it will be a hard-fought journey, right? Just being hospitalized alone is traumatic. And one of the things we're seeing, which is unexpected and uncommon for so many people, is that, when you get hospitalized for this, you're really very much alone.

    And so it's hard for families that are used to advocating for their loved ones to be able to not hear about what's happening to them in the hospital.

    And so I think that it's a really — it's very much a one-day-at-a-time moment where you are just thankful for what you have, you address the problems in front of you and you keep moving forward as best as you can.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's good advice for all of us, regardless of the times we're in.

    Dr. Dara Kass, joining us from New York City tonight. Thanks so much, doctor, and stay safe.

  • Dara Kass:

    Thank you so much.

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