Many pregnant healthcare professionals across the country are having to work on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic because there are no clear guidelines on whether it’s safe for them to continue treating patients.
Coronavirus is continuing to ravage the country, leaving many frontline healthcare workers worried about going to work, especially pregnant workers. Unfortunately, many of these vulnerable workers are forced to tackle the coronavirus pandemic without clear guidelines of what’s safe amid an overflow of patients needing immediate care. Take Dr. Sonia Singh, for example. Dr. Singh is 33 weeks pregnant and works as an internist at Memorial Hermann Health System. She and many of her pregnant co-workers are continuing to work through this crisis “without clear guidelines on whether she should continue to see patients, although her hospital has encouraged her to switch to virtual consultations where possible.”
When discussing her predicament, Dr. Singh said “she’s avoiding in-person meetings with people experiencing respiratory issues and has been very concerned about bringing the virus home…About 80% to 90% of her visits now are virtual.” She added, “I feel some guilt that I can’t see my patients like I normally would.” She also noted that she has a cleaning station set up in her garage at home for when she and her husband return home for the day. Her husband works as a critical care doctor and a pulmonologist. She said, “We’re constantly worried about giving it to each other.”
The issue at hand for pregnant healthcare professionals like Dr. Singh is that there are no official guidelines to follow. In fact, “the official guidance from public health officials varies widely about whether pregnant health workers should be in the presence of patients as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.” In places like the U.K., pregnant workers who are “than 28 weeks pregnant are being told to stop seeing patients, and pregnant health workers in Singapore are being advised to discontinue frontline duty.”
Meanwhile here in the U.S., the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said that while there is little known about COVID-19 and its potential effects on infants and pregnant women, “facilities may want to consider limiting exposure of pregnant health-care personnel to patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection, especially during higher-risk procedures.” Unfortunately, the issue is being left “up to individual hospitals to determine whether to provide additional protections for pregnant medical workers,” even though many medical groups include pregnant women in the at-risk group because symptoms of a whole host of illnesses tend to be more severe for them.
Dr. Ruth Ann Crystal, a Stanford-trained obstetrician based in the Bay Area, chimed in on the matter and said, “In general, pregnant women are a vulnerable group to any infectious disease due to altered physiology and immunosuppression.”
Dr. Jane van Dis, an obstetrician who works for Maven Clinic also noted that because the virus is so new and we still know very little about it, “pregnant doctors and nurses should move to telehealth as much as possible.” She said, “Because of the newness of the disease, there may be risks that aren’t well understood even as it spreads…that doctors can still have an impact while treating patients by phone or video.” She added, “In the same way, many health-care organizations are moving their older practitioners to telemedicine.”
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) appears to be a bit foggy, too. On one hand, some experts for the agency said they have “not yet documented an increased risk for pregnant people or fetuses exposed to the virus.” On the other hand, some CDC experts have warned that “contracting the coronavirus while pregnant could leave women vulnerable to severe respiratory problems such as pneumonia.”