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Interview'People are dying because others can't manage restrictions'

Doctor: Carelessness killing my patients, Trump’s example may make things worse

‘The death of every patient who didn’t need to die upsets me,’ says physician Daniel King, who lost four people under his care in one day

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative: Chevra Kadisha workers wearing protective clothes carry the body of a patient who died from complications of COVID-19 at the Shamgar Funeral Home in Jerusalem, March 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Chevra Kadisha workers wearing protective clothes carry the body of a patient who died from complications of COVID-19 at the Shamgar Funeral Home in Jerusalem, March 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After four deaths on his wards in a single day, Dr. Daniel King is emotional, mourning the deceased, worrying for his patients, and fearing the impact that US President Donald Trump’s latest actions will have on Israel’s coronavirus woes.

“The medical teams here are suffering,” said King, one of the senior COVID-19 doctors at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, where there are currently 64 virus patients, 13 of them in critical condition. “We’re not used to this kind of intensive care and we’re not used to this rate of mortality.

“We’re used to having much more success and this virus is very difficult to treat,” he said. “It’s a very nasty disease, that’s all there is to say.”

King assessed that sloppy adherence to coronavirus rules accounts for many fatalities. “The death of every patient who didn’t need to die upsets me,” he said. And he is concerned that while the public needs good examples, the most prominent coronavirus-related images in the global media give them the opposite.

US President Donald Trump removes his mask upon his return to the White House from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on October 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump spent three days hospitalized for coronavirus. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

On Monday, Trump controversially left the hospital after three days of treatment for COVID-19, telling Americans, “don’t be afraid of it,” speculating that he may be immune, and entering the White House without a protective mask.

In Israel, police find dozens of infectious patients every month breaking quarantine orders, and the first alleged violator was charged on Monday. King believes Trump’s conduct will be seen by some Israelis, infected or not, as a license to follow suit and take a cavalier attitude toward the restrictions.

“People are looking for easy solutions wherever they are, so if a person wants to say ‘I can get infected and after a few days go out,’ they’ll [now be able to] say ‘I’m not the first one to do this, Donald Trump did it.'”

King spoke to The Times of Israel on Tuesday, as Israel’s lockdown continued and hospitals around the country were treating a total of 1,650 coronavirus patients, half of them in serious condition. He said that Sunday, when four of his patients died, was the worst day of the pandemic at his hospital in terms of fatalities.

A doctor at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba preparing to enter a COVID-19 ward (courtesy of Meir Medical Center)

This week’s figures for newly infected patients are reflecting a drop compared to last week’s, but King thinks this should be received with caution, and said he urges the nation to “hang in there, as we still need to get infection rates much, much lower.”

On the wards, King finds it particularly jarring to see the demise of young patients, and reported that unlike in the first wave, due to the sheer volume of people currently infected a significant number of young people are ending up in the hospital.

Dr. Daniel King of the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba (courtesy of the Meir Medical Center)

“It’s a bit more frightening when you see a 47-year-old struggling to keep his oxygen level up,” he said, noting that he is now treating three under-50s who are in serious condition. “We’re used to treating critically ill older people, and now we’re also seeing previously healthy younger people.”

He said: “The young people who get to the hospital can end up being very, very sick.”

King, who is in his early fifties and was infected in the first wave before making a full recovery, said he counts himself lucky when he sees the impact the virus has on others in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Discussing older patients, he said the perception that they are generally people who had lots of underlying conditions is wrong. “One of those who died on Sunday was a 66-year-old man, who I’d treated, and we had really connected,” King said. “He had so much ahead of him. Even these ‘older’ people often have good health when infected.”

He said that talk of “underlying conditions” can be misleading, as people often have conditions that have minimal impact on their lives and a good prognosis — until they get the coronavirus. “There are very few people who haven’t visited the doctor for 40 years, but lots of the people we see aren’t on any medication and had been living normal lives,” King said.

With each death, King finds himself reflecting on the likelihood that in the infection chain that led to the deceased person getting the virus, someone failed to follow the rules. “I don’t know specifically how this man on who died on Sunday was infected but, in general, at some point along the chain of infection, someone could well have been acting carelessly.”

In his view, “people are dying because other individuals cannot manage the restrictions, because other people say ‘I’ll be okay,’ because other people say ‘it won’t happen to me’ and don’t internalize that keeping restrictions is about protecting others.”

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