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Coronavirus and chronic conditions: People need to keep them in check now more than ever | COMMENTARY

People with chronic conditions need to take special care in keeping their conditions under control during the coronavirus pandemic.
People with chronic conditions need to take special care in keeping their conditions under control during the coronavirus pandemic. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Coronavirus has finally come to Baltimore. Now we must move from trying to prevent the disease from entering our city to limiting its damage.

Just as with the rest of the country, we as a city are facing extreme challenges as we grapple with our response to this pandemic. Sacrifices will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future. As in other times of strife, everyone in our city has an important part to play. We need to come together to minimize the toll that COVID-19 will take on our community.

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As two physicians who work in Baltimore, we are uniquely acquainted with our fellow citizens since we witness the health vulnerabilities of our patients daily. Even before COVID-19 came to our city, we saw plenty of patients who struggled with managing their medical conditions.

Due to significant financial and social stressors, many of our patients prioritize other necessities of life over maintaining their health. We understand that they were making these selfless acts to try to help their families. However, now is the time for every individual to pause and place a top priority on his or her own health.

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We already know that those with pre-existing conditions are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. While pre-existing conditions put you at risk, poorly managed pre-existing conditions compound your vulnerability. In Baltimore, we see many patients who struggle with managing their diabetes, COPD and congestive heart failure. All of these conditions limit your body’s ability to fight infection. For all of these conditions, taking your medications and not missing any doses is incredibly important.

We implore all of you to take your medications for your underlying medical conditions. Now more than ever, it is imperative to make sure your conditions are well controlled. Being infected with COVID-19 is bad; being infected with COVID-19 while having a COPD exacerbation is worse.

If you are running low on your medications, please call your doctor to get additional prescriptions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even recommends having extra medical supplies such as home oxygen available during this time. Please try to avoid going to the emergency department for refills of your medication; they are getting overwhelmed with sick patients as it is.

Unfortunately, we realize many of our patients do not have access to a primary care provider. If you do not have one, the Baltimore City Health Department has a list of clinics that will see patients regardless of their insurance. These clinics are an invaluable health resource during this time and may be able to assist you with medication refills. Some of them even have walk-in appointments available. Please call them to determine the best way to be seen.

If you are having difficulty getting an appointment at one of these clinics, urgent care centers are also available. Urgent care facilities can assist you with medication refills and even mild symptoms that do not require hospitalization. It is important to call ahead before going so that staff at the urgent care center can help you determine if your symptoms warrant going to an emergency department.

If your symptoms can be treated at an urgent care center, please go there instead of an emergency department. Emergency departments are experiencing a surge of patients and any way to divert patients from the hospital will help them provide care to critically ill patients.

COVID-19 is unlike anything this city or this country has seen in over a century. The rate at which it is spreading threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system’s capacity. Baltimore, your doctors and nurses are doing all they can to get all of us through this, but you have an important part to play as well.

Many of you have underlying medical conditions that make you more vulnerable to the virus. Now, more than ever, it is vital that you try to keep your chronic medical conditions well controlled. It is important for your own health but also helps ensure that our hospitals can continue to provide the best care possible. We will get through this together.

Dr. Gregory Jasani (gjasani@som.umaryland.edu) is an emergency medicine resident at the University of Maryland Medical Center and Dr. Sarah Van Remmen (svanremmen@som.umaryland.edu) is a psychiatry resident at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

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