Dr. Adrian Burrowes describes the scary, unprepared reality of treating and contracting COVID-19 due to the government’s massive response failure.
Ahead of Election Day, COURIER spoke to five Americans who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another. Read more of their stories here.
Dr. Adrian Burrowes saw his first coronavirus patient in late February. The 46-year-old family physician in Casselberry, Florida, was among the tens of thousands of medical workers across the country suddenly plunged into a fight against an enemy they knew little about.
“It was exceptionally scary,” Burrowes told COURIER. “There was so much unknown about it.”
To make matters worse, he and his colleagues across the country suffered from a catastrophic shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and gowns, and the federal government was nowhere to be found.
Burrowes provides care at both an outpatient facility and inside nursing homes, and no matter where he was, facilities were having a hard time finding supplies. Everyone was trying to hunt them down at the same time, competing against one another, and struggling to find vendors who could meet the demand.
“Our patients came to the rescue several times creating masks for us,” Burrowes said. “Some people who worked in construction or in painting would bring us their N95 masks that they had for their company. That helped us quite a bit.”
Over time, the supply shortages abated a bit and doctors began to learn more about the virus, what symptoms to look out for, and how to treat it. But it remains a “scary disease process to treat,” according to Burrowes.
The Orlando-area doctor didn’t just treat COVID-19 patients, either. He contracted the coronavirus himself in June and is certain he caught it from one of the nursing homes he works at.
“I work with patients with dementia, so it’s very hard to get them to keep on their masks because they don’t really know any better,” Burrowes said. “In one case I had a patient that removed my mask. She was agitated [and] struggling. She’s 88 years old, but calling for her mother, and she removed my mask.”
His symptoms were reasonably mild, but he did experience muscle aches and chest pain. “I felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. I couldn’t take a deep breath and I didn’t feel comfortable unless I was lying flat on my stomach,” Burrowes said.
He was put on steroids and azithromycin and started to feel better within a few days. “I’m blessed that I had a fairly unremarkable course after that.”
Still, everything Burrowes has been through has taken a serious toll.
“I’ve had three doctors that I personally knew and work with die from COVID and people keep saying it’s like the flu. I’ve never had a colleague die from the flu. [It takes a toll] when you’re watching people die and you’re watching nurses go to work scared and you’re watching doctors go to work scared.”
The Trump administration’s response to the pandemic—which has involved downplaying the virus by comparing it to the flu, politicizing masks and social-distancing measures, and spreading misinformation—have also left him despondent, as it’s made it significantly harder to treat patients.
“You’re trying to educate your patient but your patient doesn’t know who to believe because the information is so different. You have a faction that believes you should wear the mask and social distance and protect your families and protect yourself when you go outdoors. And then you have another side that’s like, ‘Hey let’s have a party, let’s go have all these rallies and you don’t need to wear your mask,’” Burrowes said. “It’s very confusing for the patient, and as a provider, it’s very difficult to render care when your patient is sharing misinformation from the government.”
Burrowes called the president’s response “entirely inadequate” and the lack of a coordinated, national response an enormous failure.
“As time has gone on and we started seeing 100,000 lives lost, 200,000 lives lost, I would expect a different approach,” he said. “I would expect at some point we reverse course: ‘Listen we got this wrong. This is what we’re going to do to protect our population going forward.’”
Instead, the White House appears to have embraced the widely discredited herd immunity strategy, in which the nation simply allows the virus to spread throughout the population with little efforts to stop it. The approach—denounced by the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and others—is dangerous: Estimates suggest promoting herd immunity would lead to nearly 3 million American deaths.
The government’s failure to adequately address the virus has led to a precipitous surge in cases, just as millions of Americans are casting their votes in the election.
Burrowes considers himself a political moderate. Over the past 20 years, he has voted for both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. But 2020 is different, he said. It’s not just any election, but something of an existential choice about what it means to be an American.
“America has a decision on many fronts moving forward. We have to decide what type of country we want to live in. Do we want to live in a country where every life is respected? Do we want to live in a country where we value what our Constitution says in terms of liberty for all? Do we want to live in a country where our leaders value human life and don’t use them as political tools? “That’s the decision that Americans have in front of them.” he said. “This particular election, who you vote for is almost who you are, and I think people have to decide who they are.”