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As Hospitals Deal With COVID-19 Spikes, Head of Jackson South ICU Says: 'Masks Work. It's Not Hard.'

Courtesy of Dr. Andrew Pastewski

Andrew Pastewski, a pulmonologist and head of the ICU at Jackson South Medical Center, recently brought his brother — who was living in New York — down to Florida to stay in his home.

When a cousin from Tampa came to visit, who happened to be positive with COVID-19, and no one knew at the time, the entire household got it, too — his brother, his wife, children and Dr. Pastewski himself.

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Pastewski spoke with WLRN’s Veronica Zaragovia about what he learned about the disease including his personal experience, his admiration for his Jackson team and his plea for people to put on a mask. 

WLRN: When you see people congregating and not wearing a mask, or being too close to each other, what thoughts are you thinking? 

ANDREW PASTEWSKI: The selflessness that I see in the hospital with all the, not just the nurses and doctors, with the respiratory therapists, dietary environmental services, people who didn't necessarily want to be heroes, per se and help people. But the way that they've all stepped up, done their job in such a selfless way, and some of them are getting sick.

And it's hard to see these people at risk, because other people are completely selfish, and not willing to do a very simple thing like wear a mask and considerably decrease the transmission rate. Every time anyone goes into a room to take care of a patient, they're putting their lives at risk, and a simple thing like a mask would make that risk considerably less. 

Credit Courtesy of Andrew Pastewski and Jackson Health System
Dr. Andrew Pastewski says his team works especially hard to care for patients with COVID-19.

It would be great to hear about that bond that you feel with your colleagues at the hospital, experiencing something so challenging together.

Well, my team specifically is made up of three physicians, and 10 physician extenders, who are nurse practitioners and physician assistants and all of us, and all of them, have tripled their responsibility and workload without any hesitation.

Some of my team on an average day we're just handling surgical patients in the ICU and having a census of seven or eight patients, and are now seeing about 30 or 40, because we are trying to see every COVID patient so that we can monitor the sick ones and intervene when necessary from a critical care standpoint. Obviously, they're tired, they're working hard, and they're long days, but I haven't seen one member of my team take any shortcuts. The nurses, physical therapists have come up to me and said, we think we can do more.

Credit Courtesy of Andrew Pastewski and Jackson Health System
Dr. Andrew Pastewski says his team at the Jackson South Medical Center ICU insist on helping out with the load of COVID-19 patients.

"Can you give us some direction on what we could do with these patients?" The nurses have volunteered to take care of the COVID patients. We have tried to keep some of the older nurses away from the COVID, but it's not possible because they want to help.

They don't want to stand by the sidelines while everybody else works. They're all putting in late hours. And I want them to get their work done. I want all the patients to be seen and be taken care of, but I also want my team to get home at a reasonable time so they can decompress.

Is there anything that you think would help so that you guys don't see this patient load at the hospital?

The people in the hospitals who are giving of themselves and putting their lives at risk — everyday, some of them are going to die because they took care of a COVID patient. And the less COVID patients we get, the less of our people are going to die. And if we wear masks, a lot less people are going to die.

I was, for months, taking care of the COVID patients and I was decontaminating myself with a whole process every day I got home. I was in the room with patients, I was intubating patients. I was next to patients who were initially COVID negative a few feet away from them. And I never got COVID for any of them. I wore a mask everyday, every time in the hospital, and I never got COVID from any of them. I got COVID because I brought a case into my house, a family member where I wasn't wearing a mask and we all got it, the whole house got it.

Masks work. They worked. I was in COVID everyday with a mask on and I got nothing. My whole family, nothing. I was worried about bringing it to my family everyday at home, where obviously you're not gonna wear a mask at home.

You can't do that all the time. But that's how tricky and contagious viruses [are]. Just a little slip up and you get it. Everyday I work two out of every three days. Every day I was at work, I was seeing COVID patients and with the masks, nothing. One weekend with a family member and I got it. Masks work. There's just no question about it. It's an easy thing. It's not hard.

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