CARLSBAD — A retired Carlsbad doctor couldn’t have imagined when he began volunteering with California Medical Assistance Teams last year that he’d be on the frontlines of a worldwide catastrophe the likes of which few healthcare professionals have experienced.
“I started with (CAL-MAT) last year and I responded to the fires in Southern California, I took care of the firefighters and helped open a shelter (for the displaced),” Dr. Chuck Wright said. “(COVID-19) was kind of unexpected. They needed doctors and nurses and so we put a team together and went to Northern California.”
For two weeks earlier last month, the team worked at Asilomar State Park and Conference Grounds in Monterey County, assisting several passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship.
“It fell under the CDC quarantine orders, so we had a federal marshal there and we took care of them until they were through with their isolation orders,” he said.
His next stop was to San Mateo, where he and a team of medical professionals and volunteers treated patients quarantined in a hotel to help ease the strain on local hospitals.
“I think what’s happening is they thought the surge would be much higher than it is now, so the hospitals are actually handling things,” he said. “They thought they’d be overwhelmed and need a lot of extra support but it seems like the number of patients is lower than expected so the need for the alternate care sites is a little bit less. So I’m just kind of standing by until they call and say, ‘We need you.'”
The fight against COVID-19 is a day-to-day situation and the number of confirmed cases could rise if the public stops following the state’s shelter-in-place and social distancing orders, Wright said.
“I think the sheltering in place is working but the minute it eases up and people start going about their day without masks or gloves we may see another surge,” he said.
For now, Wright said the downtime has been good for him.
“After a month of working every day for 18 hours I was pretty wiped out so I needed the break anyway,” he said.
Wright said that while he does feel a calling to help out, he worries that he may become infected and takes every precaution to avoid getting it.
“I’m 62 so that puts me at higher risk,” he said. “It’s always in the back of my mind when a COVID positive patient is coughing and I know I’m being exposed even though I have my PPE on. I know that if I get it, I’m going to have a harder time fighting it than someone who’s younger, so it’s in the back of my mind but I think my desire to help people is higher than my desire to not get the virus.”
He said it’s not just people in healthcare who are putting themselves out there, he said grocery store workers are also on the front lines.
“They’re being of service as much as I am, people need groceries and they need food to survive,” he said.
Wright said the important thing for people to remember is that they must stay vigilant, stay at home and stay protected.
“You’ve got to isolate or shelter in place to protect others not just yourself,” he said. “Some young people think, ‘Well it’s just going to be like the flu and I’ll get it but I’ll be okay,’ but they’re not thinking about giving it to other people, the elderly, people in nursing homes, people who are immunocompromised. I don’t think as many people get that, they think they’re doing it for themselves but they don’t think about doing it for other people.”