by Amyn M Amlani, PhD
COVID-19, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (Sars-CoV-2), is a previously unknown virus that captured the attention of the world in December 2019. Initial reports of this virus surfaced when a large number of pneumonia cases surfaced from a seafood market in Wuhan, a city in Eastern China, where the COVID-19 was transmitted from the sale of illegally traded animals, believed to be snakes and bats, to humans.
In January 2020, World Health Organization’s (WHO) reported that the virus could also be transmitted between humans, after medical staff became infected with the disease.
The COVID-19 infection, since February 2020, has spread globally resulting in a rapid growth of the virus that has reached pandemic proportions. Consider, for example, that the number of cases of people infected with COVID-19 globally was roughly 75,000 on February 20, 2020. On March 15, 2020, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally had surpassed 153,000.
In order to curtail the spread of the virus and lessen the burdening on a healthcare system that has limited capacity, the rate at which the population becomes infected must be controlled through social and physical distancing (Figure 1).
To curtail the spread of COVID-19, governments, communities, and businesses worldwide have imposed international travel restrictions, placed lockdowns at international borders, postponed or cancelled sporting events, closed schools and universities for students of all ages, and limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people.
In addition, it’s also imperative that certain populations who are extremely vulnerable of contracting COVID-19 be shielded through minimized interaction.
Vulnerable populations include people who are:
- (i) elderly (> 70 years of age),
- (ii) organ transplant recipients,
- (iii) undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy for lung cancer,
- (iv) undergoing immunotherapy or antibody treatments for cancer,
- (v) suffering from respiratory conditions, including cystic fibrosis, severe asthma,
- (vi) suffer from rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism,
- (vii) undergoing immunosuppression therapies, and
- (viii) women who are pregnant with significant heart disease.
On March 22, 2020, the American Academy of Audiology Executive Committee posted a message encouraging audiology practices to close their physical doors to reduce in-person interaction with the intent of increasing social distancing. The Executive Committee did state that patient support could still be provided through telephone and virtual communication, and patient equipment repairs could still be handled without the need for face-to-face interaction.
According to Chad Ruffin, MD, people with hearing loss are a high-risk population from COVID-19. First, the inability to communicate for listeners who are without hearing aids lends to communication issues and increased risk for medication and treatment errors. Second, with the increase in social distancing, there is the likelihood that listeners with hearing loss will encounter greater loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Lastly, most impaired listeners have less disposable income, placing them at increased risk for financial hardships, especially if the pandemic continues for an extended time period. Thus, it remains important that contact remain available between provider and patient.
The threat of COVID-19 is real and terrifying, especially given that many lives could be lost. Practice owners are being asked to make the profound decision of temporarily closing their practices, while continuing to serve the needs of this population, without placing themselves, their staff, their families, other healthcare providers, and other patients at risk.
In this unprecedented time, the hope is that everyone will remain safe and healthy. We will overcome this disease.
*feature image courtesy Ida Irby, USMC