Slowing the Spread of COVID-19: A Conversation with the CEO/President of Cleveland Clinic Florida

Mar 24, 2020

Steps to flatten the curve and slow the spread.

The Coronavirus – COVID-19 – is here. It has arrived on the Treasure Coast, and the response, like everywhere else, ranges from extreme panic to total denial.

But, somewhere in the middle lies a “be prepared, not scared” approach. And that starts with doing certain things right now to slow the spread.

WB: We want to bend the slope of the curve so much that we don’t overwhelm our health care system and we can continue to take care of patients. That is really the goal of social distancing.

That’s Dr. Wael Barsoum. We kept our social distance and spoke to him via phone.

WB: I am an orthopedic surgeon, and I am the CEO and president of the Cleveland Clinic Florida.

The curve is the graph we are making literally right now that measures the rate of spread of the virus.  What we do right now could flatten that curve. This means social distancing, and frequently washing hands and surfaces.

WB: I really do credit our leaders in government saying if you’re not going to do this on your own, we’re going to have to mandate it for you, and I think that is going to be the key point in determining if we are going to overwhelm our health system.

At the same time, he’s not fearful.

WB: We actually started planning for this at the Cleveland Clinic two months ago.  We’ve known that this was coming, so we’ve been planning for it. We have the benefit of knowing what was handled right in China and in Korea and in Germany and in Italy, and what was handled wrong. Not because anyone intentionally made mistakes, but they didn’t have the information that we have today.

We ask him, what he says to those who fear we’ll be like Italy?

WB: Here’s some good news, right? We have anywhere between 4 and 8 times the number of critical care beds and ventilators per 100,000 patients as they do in Italy. That well-positions us to not have to make, God-willing, the difficult choices that caregivers in Italy have to make today.

There are around 1600 hospital beds in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties including all hospitals, not just Cleveland Clinic. Right now, all non-emergency visits are being canceled to keep beds open if needed to treat patients with COVID-19.

WB: Unless you are really sick, and you need to be admitted – please don’t come to the hospital. From a societal benefit perspective, that’s the better thing to do.

You should still call and can even have virtual visits through Facetime and streaming apps. You are encouraged to come to the hospital for drive-through testing.

WB: So, we have Martin North open, we have Tradition open, we have Indian River Open.

If, and only if, you have COVID-19 symptoms. That’s because…

WB:  ...because across the country there’s a shortage of testing kits.

So, if you have a cough, a fever, and shortness of breath; if you’ve been contact with somebody who has tested positive: then come for a test. But, if you’re just not feeling very well, and you don’t meet that criteria…

WB: …then you should just self-quarantine at home.

And even if you don’t have symptoms, you really should just stay at home for now anyway.

WB: So, the reality of it is, without a doubt there has been some spread – what we call community spread from people that appear asymptomatic.

The CDC says the virus can live in the air and on soft surfaces like cardboard for 2-3 hours and…

WB: ...the virus will live on hard surfaces for a couple of days.

Hard surfaces like steel and plastics.

WB: I do genuinely believe that we will come out of this as a stronger health care system , as a stronger country, and I think people just have to truly have confidence in the system and really take to heart the importance of social distancing.