COVID-19: Voices from the front line

Thursday, March 26, 2020

As the novel coronavirus COVID-19 spreads throughout the country, clinicians and other health care workers are putting their health and lives on the line to keep the public healthy. 

For those of us helping to “flatten the curve” by staying home, it is hard to imagine what it is like on the front lines of the crisis. That’s why it is important to hear from those working in hospitals facing the pandemic.

Dr. Alan Roth

We spoke with Alan Roth, DO, FAAFP, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, NY, and Co-chair of the RCA Primary Care Council, about what conditions are currently like at a hospital dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. Unfortunately, it is not a pretty picture.

New York hospitals are suffering as New York has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US. At Jamaica Hospital, a nonprofit teaching hospital, the frontline workers do not have the help they need to care for patients in this crisis. Roth says they are “overworked, understaffed,” and quickly running out of equipment:

“We have 140 COVID-19 positive cases in the hospital. Thirty-five patients are on ventilators and we only have five ventilators left. Supposedly more are coming. It’s a mess and there’s no help…We have been left out to dry.”

“We are already making decisions on who should and should not be on ventilators.”

Dr. Alan Roth

The situation in New York is mirroring that of Italy, where young people without other chronic conditions are contracting the virus, and hospital workers have to make unthinkable decisions about resource allocation.

Roth says, “We’ve had 29 total deaths as of this morning. The first young death yesterday was a 27 year-old with no medical problems. We are already making decisions on who should and should not be on ventilators.

Some hospital workers have been shocked and discouraged at the lack of assistance from the government, especially in the wealthiest country in the world. Jamaica Hospital is a teaching hospital, so the pandemic has been affecting the trainees as well. “Already the young family med residents are so disheartened,” said Roth. “They are saying, ‘When this is over, I don’t want to do this anymore, if this is what our health care system has come to.'”

Do you have a story from the front lines you would like to share? Email us at