For hospitalist Mohamed Modar Abidian, MD, the severity of COVID-19 in his patients seemed to ease with the arrival of the omicron variant—nearly two years after the virus initially broke out—and eased further in his patients who received a COVID-19 vaccination.
“The vaccine has helped a lot,” he says. “… One of the main purposes of the vaccine is just to keep the disease minimal and prevent it from progression.”
Though the number of individuals infected with COVID-19 did increase with the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant, Abidian says the hospital never reached its capacity. Medical providers anticipated the increase and were adequately prepared for it, he says.
“We were not overwhelmed because we have a dedicated service for COVID-19 treatment,” he says. “Patients with COVID-19 are under the care of one physician, one primary team, and we have a plan to take overflow patients to other teams, but so far we haven’t had to do that.”
Two types of COVID-19
His COVID-19 patients may fall into one of two categories, Abidian says.
A patient with primary COVID-19—or “classic COVID”—often has pneumonia, trouble breathing, or dehydration. In these cases, physicians focus all their treatment on the coronavirus, he says.
“For those patients with classic COVID, one of the big challenges is the symptoms,” Abidian says. “Many of them have very volatile symptoms like severe coughing and trouble breathing.”
A second category of patients with COVID-19 is those who come in for another medical reason, such as surgery, and test positive for the virus during the admission process. In these cases, patients may be asymptomatic and healthy, but still must undergo an isolation period—holding up their other medical needs.
“These patients always take extra time, extra care, and most of the time their procedures are delayed because of their COVID isolation,” he says. “That’s a challenge not just for me but also for the patient, and it can be frustrating.”
Patients may experience a delay in their semi-elective procedure or intervention, Abidian says.
Meanwhile, he adds, non-COVID patients who need to be discharged to skilled-care facilities or nursing homes may experience delays, leading to their prolonged and unnecessary hospitalization.
“COVID-19 has affected the quality of care for both COVID and non-COVID patients throughout the pandemic,” Abidian says.
The main challenge any hospitalized COVID-19 patient faces is the lingering uncertainty around the virus, its characteristics, and impact, Abidian says. Because COVID-19 is still new, it can be unpredictable, and every day is a “different story,” he says.
“COVID is still a new disease in the medical field,” he says. “I tell my patients, ‘I cannot make any promises for tomorrow, whether you will be able to go home or not, but I can tell you what’s going on today.’”
Slowing the spread
Patients with COVID-19 who have received the vaccine usually fare better than those who have not, Abidian says.
“I’ve seen children—young, healthy people and unvaccinated—go to the intensive care unit right away after they were infected with the omicron variant,” he says. “The vaccinated patients, when they do have the disease, tend to fare much, much better. And many people who were not vaccinated actually changed their mind after they were infected with COVID and decided to get vaccinated.”
For his patients who were vaccinated but still ended up hospitalized with COVID-19, Abidian says he tells them that inoculation probably made the disease more mild. Without it, he says, their experience with the virus may have been much worse.
“I tell them that the pandemic is at this stage in which most people have been exposed to or infected with the virus,” he says. “That’s why I focus on the vaccine, because it is one of the things we have control over, and if you get the vaccine, we have a real chance of stopping the spread of the virus.”
Abidian communicates the importance of limiting transmission of the virus by showing his patients with COVID-19 side-by-side X-rays of a healthy pair of lungs and their own during infection.
He encourages people to look for and listen to in-depth, accurate resources about the vaccine, Abidain says, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s been a marathon for everyone—physicians, nurses, and staff,” he says. “So, stay healthy, please practice social distancing, and get vaccinated.”