Everything doctors must know before COVID-19’s next wave

By Physician Sense
Published October 29, 2020

Key Takeaways

While everybody’s distracted by the election, it seems the next wave of COVID-19 is crashing upon us. Just today, cases in half of the U.S. states are trending upward. Reasons for the spike might include the return to school, cooler weather, and fatigue/frustration with mask-wearing and social distancing. What’s a doctor to do?

While it’s shaping up to be a potentially dangerous and deadly fall and winter, at least we have the benefit of hindsight. Based on what we learned from the winter, spring, and summer of 2020, here’s what doctors should do to prepare themselves for the pandemic’s next act.

At work

The early days of the pandemic had many hospitals in hard-hit areas on their heels. Healthcare providers lacked PPE, patients shared ventilators, and many physicians were asked to work outside of their speciality. 


We can all remember a time when an N95 respirator was worth more than a case of Costco two-ply. Now is a great time to stock up on both, if you can. According to Get Us PPE, the shortage persists. September data (the most recent) show that 80% of healthcare facilities across the US have depleted their supply of one or more types of PPE. This is up from 77% in August.

The shortage seems to be hitting smaller facilities, such as nursing homes and health clinics, harder than hospitals, Get US PPE says. Ninety percent of September PPE requests came from the former, according to the non-profit. If you or your organization is struggling, you can request PPE here. Or, if you have enough to go around, consider donating here

Surge staffing

Early in the pandemic, the New York Times reported that physicians in New York City worked outside of their specialties to meet the surge of COVID-19 cases. Several orthopedic surgeons wrote about their redeployment during the pandemic in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. It’s possible that the same thing might happen again. Physicians should prepare themselves to answer the call. Learning from these doctors’ experiences is a good place to start.

Preparation might mean brushing up on some basic emergency medicine, ensuring that you have telemedicine solutions in place for your non-emergent patient base, and making sure that when you’re off the clock, you’re recovering well. More on that final point in the next section.

At home

Work-life balance is more essential than ever. In fact, inadequate recovery may be a driver of a shadow pandemic. Here’s how you can ensure your home life is restorative. 

Mental health

A meta analysis of PTSD and the psychological burden of previous SARS outbreaks among healthcare workers shows that timing is everything. In this new review, published in Psychiatry Research, investigators concluded that the timeliness of interventions was among several determinants of negative mental health outcomes among healthcare providers.

For physicians, perhaps it’s best to take a more preventative approach to mental health. Telehealth has expanded access to talk therapy throughout the pandemic. Doctors may want to start seeing counselors now, as a preventative measure. Furthermore, physicians should look into and take advantage of any employer-offered support services. This might include counseling, or even something logistical, such as childcare. Do whatever you can now to lessen your mental burdens later.


Make sure your home is well-stocked with the basic necessities that ran short during the pandemic. These items included paper products, hand sanitizer and soap, and certain food staples, such as animal protein. If you have an extra freezer, it might not be a bad idea to stock it now to minimize trips to the store during peak periods of infection.

While you’re stocking up, be sure to include healthy foods that are easy to prepare and foods that might be beneficial for managing COVID-19 symptoms, should you fall ill. Possibilities might include canned goods, soups, frozen meals, or pasta. Low-sugar electrolyte beverages may also be good for staying hydrated. You’ll also want to have NSAIDs and acetaminophen on hand for symptom management. A pulse oximeter to monitor blood-oxygen saturation is also not a bad idea.

Personal finance

If the past is prologue, the months ahead may be financially rocky. The election also complicates the financial outlook, heightening the potential for economic volatility. However, there are steps you can take right now to mitigate risk.

Emergency fund

Some physicians faced furloughs when the pandemic shut down elective procedures. Others faced layoffs, or other unforeseen financial hardships. An emergency fund covers basic needs if you find yourself between jobs, or facing some other emergent crisis that must be solved in dollars. If you’re in the process of building an emergency fund, stay the course as long as you can. Something is better than nothing. Your savings goal should be 3-6 months of expenses.

Continue reading on Physician Sense >

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter