Dr. Andrew Pastewski, the ICU medical director at Florida’s Jackson South Medical Center, has been treating coronavirus patients at his hospital since the pandemic began. But when Florida started to loosen its stay-at-home orders and reopen, he did what a lot of Floridians did.
“We opened up,” he said. “We allowed family to come over and visit.”
Soon, coronavirus cases started appearing in his family. A cousin, a brother, then his own wife and kids, and finally Pastewski himself contracted the virus.
“I had a mom and grandmother drive themselves into my hospital, and only one drove home,” he said.
Pastewski warned against a sense of complacency and the erroneous notion that the virus is only affecting the elderly in nursing homes.
“It’s the 82-year-old grandma who lives in the house, who takes care of the grandkids so that people can go to school, so that the mother can work, who makes that special sauce. I have these people dying,” he told CNN’s John Berman and Alisyn Camerota on Wednesday on “New Day.”
“These are 80-year-olds that contracted a virus because a group of people just didn’t want to wear a mask, and they had to go out and have fun. And it really upsets me when everybody says, ‘It’s just old people, and it’s not a big deal.’”
As coronavirus cases continue to rise, ICUs at 56 Florida hospitals this week have reached capacity.
Since Pastewski only had a mild case of the coronavirus, he continued to see Covid-19 patients from home via telemedicine and kept a check on how the hospital handled the resurgence of cases, he said.
The Jackson South Medical Center has been proactively expanding ICU bed capacity and has hired another 100 nurses, he said. The focus is now on creating negative pressure rooms as coronavirus treatment has moved from intubations and ventilators.
“(We are) using other modalities like noninvasive ventilation and high-flow oxygen, which are aerosol-generating procedures and should really be done in a negative pressure room to keep the staff safe. So, our hospital has been proactive in trying to create more of these negative pressure rooms,” he explained. The team has taken on the surge with a “head full of steam that I’m very impressed by,” he added.
Pastewski has recovered, completed his 14-day quarantine and returns Wednesday to work.
As he and his family get back out into the world this time, there are new considerations he’s keeping in mind, especially with his children, who may soon go back to school.
“My belief about the virus is that, yeah they may get it again. We don’t know exactly what the antibodies mean, we don’t know how long the immunity lasts,” he said. “But at the end of the day, they handled the virus extremely well. So, I feel comfortable with my children’s immune system, as well as my family’s, that they can go back out into the world.”
“Obviously, respect others. A mask is a must. But I do feel safer with my own children knowing that they got the virus, knowing that they handled it well with their immune system, and at the very least, even if they got it again, they could handle it,” he added.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated which of Pastewski's relatives may have gotten sick with the coronavirus.