- Pediatric infectious disease expert, Mark Pasternack, describes the measures he’s taken to protect himself, his colleagues, and his patients in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- From working from home to avoiding Trader Joe’s during peak hours, these safeguards have impacted just about every part of his daily routine.
- He says that the most difficult precaution he’s had to take has been to distance himself from his daughter and grandchildren.
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On a typical day, Mark Pasternack, MD, gets his exercise on the job — logging about 10,000 steps between strolling to the subway station and rushing among his patients at the hospital. But these are not typical days.
“Yesterday it rained. I didn’t even go out,” says Pasternack, who heads the pediatric infectious disease unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. Instead of meeting patients face-to-face, he now calls them by phone from his house. “I lost my walk.”
The switch from hospital to home is one of many precautions Pasternack has taken to protect himself and others as COVID-19 continues to spread across all 50 states. Pasternack shared with Business Insider how the safeguards he’s taken impact nearly every part of his daily life.
Working from home
Beyond the virtual visits with patients, Pasternack is keeping a safe distance from his colleagues. He’s stopped holding in-person meetings with the other doctors at his practice — such gatherings could risk crippling the hospital’s capacity to treat patients.
“If all seven of the infectious disease doctors are forced to be quarantined at once, the department has lost all its expertise for two weeks minimum,” says Pasternack.
He believes some of these practices could stick around for longer than the COVID-19 pandemic itself. “This may well change the practice of ambulatory care in America for the long haul,” says Pasternack, adding that the emergency precautions he’s taking now could spur wider adoption of telemedicine for certain medical care in the future.
“Much of what we do in medicine is, in fact, verbal communication,” says Pasternack. “A face-to-face visit in the office is not the end-all, be-all.”
Avoiding a feeding frenzy
Pasternack is cautious about how — and when — he and his wife buy food. “We try to shop at odd hours when the stores are not crowded,” says Pasternack, who shopped for groceries at 7:30 AM this morning. “We have not gone to some of the popular stores, like Trader Joe’s, during peak Sunday afternoon rush hour.”
He adds that some products pose a greater contagion risk than others. For example, people tend to poke and prod fresh produce more often than canned goods. “Maybe that tomato that looked okay to you didn’t look okay to someone else, and they picked it up, squeezed it, and put it back on the shelf.”
And after each trip to the grocery store, with all its surfaces exposed to countless people, Pasternack’s first stop is the kitchen sink. “Hand hygiene is really important.”
Family time from afar
Pasternack says the most difficult precaution he’s taken is to distance himself from his daughter and two grandsons who live nearby. “We’ve been banished from seeing them,” says Pasternack. “We really feel like we’re missing out in a serious way.”
While Pasternack and his wife sometimes go on walks near their family, they maintain a six-foot distance and never go inside together. Their grandsons, both younger than four, struggle with this new normal. “They don’t understand what’s going on,” says Pasternack.
Despite the hardship, he knows these measures are necessary. “Grandparents and grandchildren should be kept separate,” says Pasternack, who, at age 69, would have an elevated risk of complications if he caught COVID-19. According to the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US, so far, 11% to 31% of people ages 65 to 84 need to be treated with intensive care.
As an infectious disease doctor amid a global pandemic, Pasternack feels a heightened responsibility to model the right behavior. “We have to maintain in exemplary fashion all of the standard recommendations,” says Pasternack. “We’re doing the best we can.”