Doctor: Winter months with COVID-19 won't be easy



Winter is coming, and Dr. Stephen Sample is tired.

As an emergency physician at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, he’s always at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Then, he goes home and places himself on lockdown, just as he’s done every day since March. In his free time, he’s reading up on COVID-19 data and updates, making sure he’s always up to speed in case a reporter calls him.

He's been mentally preparing for December because he knows it's going to be one of his busiest months.

And then he sees others going about their lives as if everything is normal. He’s frustrated.

Indiana had more COVID-19 cases in November than any previous month. In the past week, Dubois County has seen at least 30 new cases every day, and 32 people in the county have died from the virus since it first began.

Sample attributes the recent spike, at least in part, to Halloween parties and get-togethers. Paired with colder weather causing less social distancing and general pandemic fatigue, this outcome was somewhat expected, he said.

Cases in Dubois County are starting to plateau now, but hospitalizations and death numbers from current cases are surely still to rise. Sample is worried what the county will look like in a few weeks.

“I know that my shifts went from underwater to pretty normal in the past week or so, but the Thanksgiving bump hasn’t happened yet,” he said.

Right now, Memorial isn’t more overwhelmed than usual with a lack of staff or available beds, Sample said.

And the nearby major hospitals are starting to drown, he said.

“There’s no room in the inn in Evansville, in Louisville, in Indianapolis,” Sample said. “We [at Memorial] have ventilators, but if you come in and are having a heart attack and need a quadruple bypass, and there are no beds for 200 miles, that’s problematic.”

Sample’s cousin in Louisville recently discovered she has a mass in her adrenal gland that needs removed. But the surgeon called her Tuesday and said all non-emergency cases requiring an overnight stay in the hospital are canceled until further notice.

“Would it feel like an emergency to you if you had something in you that could be killing you?” Sample asked. “This is how our behavior affects people outside our family, outside ourselves, that don’t have COVID.”

Even if health care services in Dubois County aren’t struggling, people need to be aware of the ripple effect their actions could have on other hospitals and individuals, Sample said.

For that reason, he recommended postponing plans for the upcoming holidays.

“When you look at expanding your bubble, there’s just no safe way to do it,” he said.

For Thanksgiving, Sample set up space heaters outside so his parents could visit from a distance. But he canceled his Christmas plans. His family is disappointed, he said, but it’s worth it if it means saving lives.

And with vaccines that are set to be distributed in the coming weeks and months, he can see the light at the end of the tunnel, anyway.

“I’m super hopeful for next year,” he said.

Although Sample expects next spring to be significantly better for COVID-19 cases, he urged everyone to stay vigilant. Winter months are going to be especially difficult, but it isn’t forever.

“Don’t lose focus now. Don’t be that person,” he said. “We’ve had bigger things than this asked of us as a country, and we’ve always come through.”

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