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Help fight coronavirus, delay nonessential procedures

Jerome M. Adams

If you are having a heart attack or have been in a car accident, there is a chance you will need to have a medical or surgical procedure right away. Many procedures are urgent and must be done even in the midst of a global pandemic. Elective procedures are those that are often scheduled days to weeks in advance and often could be postponed without causing great harm. For example, most total joint replacements are elective, but transplants and cancer surgery are not.

As a member of the president’s Coronavirus Task Force — and a practicing physician — I am calling on all hospital systems to heed federal recommendations and cancel or delay nonessential elective procedures in a way that minimizes potential harm to patients. These include dental procedures as well. As both Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said, this move is imperative for our national COVID-19 response for several reasons:

Why these delays are needed

►First, nonessential planned procedures consume personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns. At a time when health providers in the hardest-hit areas are concerned about having enough PPE to take care of COVID-19 patients, it is imprudent to pull PPE from regional and national pools to do procedures that could be postponed.     

Surgeon General Jerome Adams at the White House on March 20, 2020.

►Second, a person rarely comes in alone for a medical procedure. Each additional person, whether a loved one or caregiver, might have an undiagnosed case of COVID-19 that could be transmitted to the medical staff and facility. The president and his task force’s guidelines around social distancing mean avoiding unnecessary interactions, which include those we can eliminate by postponing elective procedures. 

►Third, as we are in the midst of a whole-of-government effort to fight COVID-19, we need all our health care workforce and more to meet the demands of this challenge. Every non-urgent case takes precious staff time and energy, straining a workforce already going above and beyond in this fight.

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