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Infectious Diseases Doctor Remembers Her Father, Who Died Of COVID-19

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

A poignant tweet went viral this week. It reads, in part, I lost my dad last night to COVID. Died alone in a busy hospital parking garage turned COVID unit. Only gratitude to those on the front lines working so hard to care for him and others. The tweet's author is actually on those front lines - Dr. Sigal Yawetz, an infectious diseases physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and she joins us now.

Dr. Yawetz, I'm very sorry for your loss.

SIGAL YAWETZ: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me about your father. How did he contract COVID-19?

YAWETZ: My father was 83. In the last year, he had to move from an assisted living facility to a nursing home. And then he ended up requiring a hospitalization. Then his admission test for COVID-19, the PCR - they do it in the nose when you go to the hospital - was positive. And then other people at the nursing home were found to be positive as well. So somehow an outbreak in a nursing home is how he contracted it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Was it especially painful since you yourself are a doctor and you couldn't be nearer to help him?

YAWETZ: It was quite hard. I haven't seen my dad since the summer before, so about a year. I usually try to go once or twice a year, but with COVID, with me working on COVID units and being exposed, especially early on, not knowing how one might contract it and wanting to protect him, I felt that, even if I go, I'd have to quarantine. I would not be able to see him.

As time went by, travel from the U.S. to Israel was limited and required quarantine. And then things have gotten a bit out of control in Israel as far as COVID goes. So, yes, it was hard to be away. It was hard not to have control of the care he gets because I'm so used to telling people how to treat COVID. I still did it a little bit through my colleagues there. And it was very, very hard to think of him alone there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, the parking garage.

YAWETZ: Yeah. So, you know, the parking garage is probably, for this hospital, the ideal place to create a unit that allows the appropriate distancing, ventilation - you know, the things that are required to protect the staff and to have the operations work well. But I think for old people who are confused, you know, opening your eyes and seeing a ceiling of a parking garage but feeling like you're in a hospital is probably confusing.

I think, you know, at the Brigham, where I worked, we've done a lot of things to allow patients to communicate as much as they can with their families, even though families cannot visit sometimes - iPads and other ways where you can at least have video chats and phone conversations and other things that families can send to be in the room that I think are really helpful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, the second part of that tweet thread was about how the pandemic has been dealt with in the United States. And of course, now we know...

YAWETZ: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...The news that the president and the first lady have tested positive for the coronavirus.

YAWETZ: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are your thoughts?

YAWETZ: You know, I tried to stay out of politics in the tweet to give a positive message of, you know, what do we need to do in order to prevent this from happening to other families? So my tweet said masks. Some estimate that 50% of infections in the U.S. are caused by people who are asymptomatic, so wearing a mask is really important to prevent a large proportion of the infections. Then I talked about indoors versus outdoors because it's hard for me to see that more and more indoor places are opening, indoor gatherings are allowed, especially in places where we still have high rates of infection or transmission or positive tests.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I'm just wondering, you know, you've lost your father to this disease. You are on the front lines of treating this disease. Has it left you with any thoughts about this moment?

YAWETZ: Well, I think, you know, I don't want to get to a point of despair, and I think we should not get to a point of despair. I think a lot of people are suffering. People have lost jobs. People have lost loved ones. But I think there's a lot of room for hope, too. Things are coming down the line that will eventually, hopefully, get us out of this. So I'm very hopeful that we'll eventually have vaccines, that we'll reach a level of community immunity that will allow people not to get infected, at least at these high rates, and that we'll be able to resume our own lives again or some normalcy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sigal Yawetz from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, thank you very much.

YAWETZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.