McElhinney: COVID-19 triage is happening, and here’s how we can help


Vogler / CC BY-SA

The increase of patients due to COVID-19 has caused hospitals to prioritize patients’ needs .

Kate McElhinney, Staff Writer

With over 3,500 COVID-19 cases in Mississippi and almost 2.1 million cases worldwide, it has become apparent that the coronavirus pandemic is spreading fast and will continue to spread quickly for some time. As the mortality rate rises, so does the number of patients being hospitalized for COVID-related symptoms, meaning that there is less space and fewer resources for those needing other forms of treatment, such as heart surgery, tonsillectomies or even casts for patients with broken bones.

By definition, triage is “the sorting of patients according to the urgency of their need for care.” So, basically, it means that hospitals can and will be prioritizing patients depending on the amount of supplies needed, length of treatment and likelihood of survival. In theory, it’s a decent idea, but in today’s society, it might prove to be challenging.

For example, let’s take one of the more prominent subsets of patients some hospitals will have to pick and choose from: cancer patients. Chemotherapy alone can last up to about six months, and the amount of supplies needed to treat patients is large. Doctors are going to have to choose which patients to treat based on the severity of their cancer and the amount of time the patient can go without treatment. Unfortunately, this means that some patients will not be getting the treatment they need to heal, and their condition will quite likely worsen. Is this okay? Of course not. Do these people deserve to be pushed aside until they are on their deathbeds? By no means! But will it happen in the next six months or so? Probably.

Additionally, people of different ages and incomes are being treated with different levels of urgency. Those who are elderly are less likely to be treated because they have less time to live. Why not choose the patient with more life to live and more potential to help the nation, right? People with lower sources of income will be unable to afford the now sought-after treatment. While it isn’t fair to reject those who cannot afford treatment, hospitals have to be able to afford new supplies for the herd of people checking in. It seems unjust and inhumane, but in a worldwide crisis, it might be the only option.

Hospitals are doing the best they can to help every person possible. Many have implemented triage regulations to make sure they are treating the maximum number of people they can treat without overfilling hospital rooms and depleting supplies. For now, it seems to be working well enough, but will it still be adequate in a month? Six months? A year? Not much can be done to stop triage from happening, but things can be done to shorten the amount of time it will occur.

While I severely doubt that many people have syringes or other medical supplies lying around that could be donated to hospitals, there is something that can be done to help with the problem. Stay at home. Taco Bell is great, but it’s not worth giving or getting the coronavirus, is it? The fewer interactions people have with each other, the less likely it is that people will end up in hospitals, ergo the less likely it is that sick people will have to be turned away until further notice.

That being said, do your part. Stay inside. Try to avoid activities that cause injury or involve contact with anyone outside of your immediate family. If you’re showing symptoms, here is a self-test to determine your risk of having COVID-19.