Nurse Amelia Montgomery poses for a photo at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Mo. Photo: CoxHealth via AP
health

Doctors and nurses battle virus skeptics

11 Comments
By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH

Treating the sick and dying isn't even the toughest part for nurse Amelia Montgomery as the coronavirus surges in her corner of red America.

It's dealing with patients and relatives who don't believe the virus is real, refuse to wear masks and demand treatments like hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump has championed even though experts say it is not effective against the scourge that has killed over 210,000 in the U.S.

Montgomery finds herself, like so many other doctors and nurses, in a world where the politics of the crisis are complicating treatment efforts, with some people even resisting getting tested.

It's unclear how Trump’s bout with the virus will affect the situation, but some doctors aren't optimistic. After a few days of treatment at a military hospital, the president tweeted on Oct 5, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. ... I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

After one tough shift in the coronavirus unit at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, Montgomery went onto Facebook to vent her frustrations about caring for patients who didn't socially distance because they didn't believe the virus was real. The hospital later shared her post on its website.

She complained that some people demand the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and think the only patients who get really sick have underlying health problems.

“The majority of people don’t understand and can’t picture what we are seeing. That has been frustrating for all of us,” Montgomery said in an interview, adding: “It wears.”

Combating virus skeptics is a battle across the country.

In Georgia, at Augusta University Medical Center, visitors have tried to get around the mask requirement by wearing face coverings made of fishnet and other material with visible holes, something the hospital has dubbed “malicious compliance." People also have shown up with video cameras in an attempt to collect proof the virus is a hoax, said Dr Phillip Coule, the health system's chief medical officer, who contracted the virus in July and has seen two staff members die.

“Just imagine that while you are caring for your own staff that are dying from this disease, and while you are trying to keep yourself safe, and you are trying to keep your family safe, and you are trying to deal with a disease that such little is known about, and then to have somebody tell you that it is all a hoax after you have been dealing with that all day," he said. “Imagine the emotional distress that that causes.”

He said most skeptics — including some who have argued with him on Facebook — are converted to believers when they get sick themselves. And he is starting to hear fewer people dismiss the virus entirely since the president was diagnosed.

“It is unfortunate that the president has contracted the disease, but it is difficult for groups who support the president to be out there saying it doesn’t exist," he said.

But he also said he fears people may draw the wrong lesson about the seriousness of the disease from what happened to Trump: "People may extrapolate that the risk for a 74-year-old is low when the reality is the risk to a 74-year-old is quite high."

Dr Beth Oller, who practices family medicine with her physician-husband in rural Kansas' Rooks County, isn't optimistic the president's diagnosis will change much in her community, where cases are on the rise, many resist masks, and weddings with hundreds of guests have been held in recent weeks.

“None of the things he did since he had it have helped us a bit, and, if anything, would fly in the face of it," she said, noting that the president took his mask off as soon as he returned to the White House. “All he did was continue to show people that the things we are saying to do are overblown and an overreaction. As a physician, it is so damn frustrating."

The issue has been a challenge in red states for months.

In Iowa, home health nurse Lisa Dockery was fired from her job caring for a boy with severe disabilities after arguing with his parents, who said COVID-19 is a “hoax.” The argument started because the parents refused to wear masks around Dockery and the boy, even though she told them their son's life was in danger because he has respiratory problems, relies on tube feedings and cannot walk, state unemployment records show.

The case ended with a judge ordering her former employer to pay her unemployment.

Dr Gary LeRoy, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said he isn’t surprised that it has been so hard to persuade the public, noting that there was also a lot of denial as the Spanish flu was sweeping across the world a century ago, killing tens of millions of people.

“When you look at human history, it is what happens in every situation," he said. “In war, in famine, in disease, there is going to be a population of people where the bombs are dropping all around them and they don’t believe that it exists.”

Dr. Brad Burmeister, an emergency medicine physician at Bellin Hospital in Green Bay, Wisconsin, said he has encountered a few patients who have declined to be tested for the coronavirus despite having possible symptoms.

“They say they don’t want to become a statistic or some kind of rhetoric like that," he said, adding that he thinks a shift might be coming, given what happened to Trump. “It just sort of shows how infectious COVID-19 is and how easily it can spread, that even when you are taking all of those precautions, you can still get infected with the virus."

Dr Natasha Bhuyan, a family physician in Phoenix, said politics often come up in discussions with patients who come in asking whether the death toll is being inflated.

“It’s an info-demic as well as a pandemic,” she lamented.

Dr Jay W. Lee, a family physician in Orange County, California, recalled a patient who demanded the “largest hydroxychloroquine prescription you can give me."

“If I didn’t have my mask on, he would have seen my mouth agape,” said Lee, chief medical officer of the Share Our Selves medical clinics, adding that a small number of patients “flat-out said this was a hoax."

He has found himself turning to social media and meeting with elected leaders to combat some of the misinformation.

“I think part of it is we feel like we can’t just sit back and take it because silence is complicity,” he said.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


11 Comments
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The virus is real, but the response to it is somewhat a hoax.

-14 ( +2 / -16 )

It's dealing with patients and relatives who don't believe the virus is real, refuse to wear masks and demand treatments like hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump

All to be expected when the lead male in the White House, SuperSpreder#1, is a pandemic denier himself and is aided and abetted by global far right troll armies using media of all forms to push their misinformation to audiences of poorly educated and intellectually vulnerable populations, who sadly are the ones hurt most by the pandemic.

Hats off and hearts out to ALL medical professionals.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Thousands of health and allied professionals have died worldwide from Covid-19 since the pandemic began, the deliberately overlooked victims of the "it's all a hoax" crowd. Exposed to danger during all the hours of their working days, the health workers also have to cope with the ignorant requests and aggression of Trump's unthinking shock troops, who even when struck down by the virus refuse to use the few brain cells they were allotted at birth.

And meanwhile, no word from the top to try and defend the health workers who, in another life, could have been the ones working to try and save Trump's life, if he hadn't been born into wealth and had the good luck to lead a privileged life. But what do Trump and his ilk care about the troubles of the ordinary health worker, when they have teams of professionals dedicated to them, and them alone?

10 ( +12 / -2 )

We cannot blame people from becoming skeptics. “The majority of people don’t understand and can’t picture what we are seeing.” and yet, "..and you are trying to deal with a disease that such little is known about". The real culprit is that until now, medical experts failed to establish the complete anatomy and how do we really dodge getting infected from this ubiquitous virus.

-13 ( +2 / -15 )

The virus is a hoax until you catch it and regret. There is a saying if you can't see it, don't believe it. Cheers.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Even here you will have people endlessly repeating that there is no real danger from the pandemic, that doctors and scientist hide effective drugs even from their own families or that medical advice based on science is just an overblown media campaign of misinformation. Repeating these lies is what makes life difficult for people treating patients.

Irresponsibly repeating bad information because of ignorance would be bad enough, but some people are even worse and repeat things they know are false, trying actively to convince others of things even themselves no longer think are true.

One important thing is that they are not virus skeptics, because an skeptic is the person that looks for evidence, they are virus deniers, because no amount of evidence will ever convince them they are wrong, their cult-like beliefs are more important than the health of others.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

If they demand Hydroyxcloroquine then give it to them. If they die.... Their choice. If they refuse to wear a mask or turn up in a net “mask”... no treatment. If you want to put yourself at risk fine. You have no right to risk others. Your life isn’t that valuable.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Even here you will have people endlessly repeating that there is no real danger from the pandemic,

There is a danger, but it's much lower than initially thought. And for young people it is less dangerous than the flu.

that doctors and scientist hide effective drugs even from their own families or that medical advice based on science is just an overblown media campaign of misinformation.

You mean like the importance of vitamin D and yes, even the effectiveness of HCQ. I find it criminal that health authorities are not constantly telling everyone to increase their vitamin D.

More and more doctors are coming out though, unfortunately their voices are censored. I suspect many doctors do take better care of their families than their patients.

Irresponsibly repeating bad information because of ignorance would be bad enough, but some people are even worse and repeat things they know are false, trying actively to convince others of things even themselves no longer think are true.

Yeah, like saying all vaccines are perfectly fine and can do no harm (even before clinical trials are over). That is indeed irresponsible.

-11 ( +1 / -12 )

Ignorance can be dangerous.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

There is a danger, but it's much lower than initially thought. And for young people it is less dangerous than the flu.

No, it is not, it only appears so because of the heavy cost social distancing measures, compare the letalithy rates for flu this year and the difference becomes obvious.

You mean like the importance of vitamin D and yes, even the effectiveness of HCQ. I find it criminal that health authorities are not constantly telling everyone to increase their vitamin D.

Yes, that kind of completely irrational fantasy based thing. Every comorbidity is already well known as a factor for covid-19 complication, that obviously includes malnutrition and dietary insufficiency. HCQ has not show any kind of advantage not dependent on bad selection of the patients, so what is irresponsable (and criminally so in some places) is to use it when there is no advantage and still risk of toxicity. Only people that cannot calculate doses still have the mistaken idea it works.

More and more doctors are coming out though, unfortunately their voices are censored. I suspect many doctors do take better care of their families than their patients.

A big part of fantasy conspiracies is that supposedly a lot of professionals support it, but they are always nameless people nobody hears about, While at the same time every single professional association of health workers in the world says exactly the opposite. That is not an argument is an excuse and can be discarded without problems.

Yeah, like saying all vaccines are perfectly fine and can do no harm (even before clinical trials are over). That is indeed irresponsible.

Compared with the natural infection? perfectly so. The rest is just a strawman, a non-argument nobody as ever said, but since the real one is too strong to even mention (in this case that vaccines are safer and less harmful than the infection, and by a huge lot) the fake argument is repeated as if it was something real, it is not.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Fine. Refuse treatment to those who keep thinking the pandemic is a hoax. Don't start thinking you're going to get the same top-notch treatment the man-child received (thanks to tax-payers who have paid more than $750).

2 ( +3 / -1 )

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