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'This Virus Will Be Around For Awhile' UM Doctor on Florida's COVID-19 Outbreak

David Santiago
Miami Herald

Florida has reported more than 430,000 cases of the coronavirus, officially surpassing New York for having the second most COVID-19 cases of any state in the country — just behind California.


Miami-Dade County has amassed approximately a quarter of those cases and 1,404 deaths. The county recently imposed a statewide mask mandate and has already begun issuing $100 fines for non-compliant residents. The University of Miami’s Dr. Erin Marcus says these new rules are important but have come far too late. 

“Back in early June, I was in a large car dealership in Doral. A lot of people had their masks on very loosely, their nose was sticking out of their masks. And there were a lot of people there. It was a little unsettling,” said Dr. Marcus.  


Dr. Marcus is a professor of medicine in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and works in a primary healthcare clinic as part of the Jackson Health System.


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With a firsthand view of the stress the pandemic is putting on South Florida and its medical staff, she wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining why she doubts Florida will be pandemic free anytime soon. She spoke with Luis Hernandez on Sundial. 

This conversation has been edited lightly for clarity. 

WLRNI'm wondering what you're hearing from other doctors around the county about what they're also experiencing. What do you tend to hear? 

DR. ERIN MARCUS: Well, in the hospital, it is a different situation. We do have enough PPE, or protective equipment, for now, but it's very busy. And we've had to reassign our trainees. I am involved in the residency program and we've had to reassign our trainees. People who are doing electives who were training in other things now are focusing on inpatient COVID care. And it is very exhausting for them. There are a lot of patients. The patients are often very sick and the patients themselves are very scared. It's a scary experience to feel that you cannot breathe. 

People are scared about what's going to happen to them. It's much more emotionally intense, I've been told by my colleagues who have been on the inpatient COVID service more than the usual inpatient service where we're taking care of somebody who perhaps has some chest pain or had an asthma attack that was treated with medication.

This is a much more intense experience. And my colleagues who have been on this service have been completely exhausted. I got an email from a colleague on Friday and she said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I couldn't respond. I just want to drop now because I just finished being on inpatient service." 

And what do you hear from them about the patients? I want to get a sense of the profile. Do they skew older, younger people with preexisting conditions? What do we know about them?

In May and June, the numbers really dropped. And at that point, the people that we did see often were construction workers in their 40s. We had a lot of construction workers. I don't know if you recall, but construction work was going on around Miami-Dade County. 

And those people were often younger. Now, as this has progressed, it's involved really all sorts of people. We've had a lot of people working in essential jobs, such as garbage collection, for example. Sometimes the people say that they think perhaps they got it in the cab of the truck, other people who think that maybe they got it from a family gathering. We have been getting older people, too — from nursing home patients and also older people who got it from their family members. 

Coming back to your op-ed piece, you don't see a slowdown. And I'm wondering, what you see on the horizon for Florida? 

That's a good question. I mean, it seems that we're sort of at a plateau now. It's sort of like when you climb the mountain and it's like there's a little table at the top of the mountain. I guess it does depend on in-person school, right? Given the present infrastructure, if we were to resume school, I would worry about more cases. However, as I said before, I think that as people become more aware of what's going on, I think people are going to be more careful. But I do think that COVID, it is going to be around for a while. 

Even once they get a vaccine, it's going to take them — first of all, it's going to take them a while to produce it and to distribute it and then to get people to take it. So I, unfortunately, see this virus being around for a while and being a health concern that's going to be out there for awhile. 

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.