ICU Doc Meeting

The Red & Black's Health Editor, Simran Kaur Malhotra, sat down with an Athens ICU physician to discuss the ongoing pandemic. (Photo/Sophia Haynes)

Dr. Andrew McKown had just started the first of an eight-day shift in Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center’s intensive care unit when he and I sat down for an interview at the end of August. McKown told me about how he has seen people’s loved ones pass away, how exhausted health care professionals have been working through the pandemic and what he hopes to see now in order to lessen COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in our community.

The Red & Black sat down with Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center in August 2021 to discuss COVID-19, masks, vaccines and how health care professionals are adapting.

Although McKown said he loves what he does and remains grateful to be able to take care of his patients, he is tired of seeing COVID-19 spread due to people being unvaccinated or not wearing masks properly. 

“Unfortunately, we are back now to where we were in January of this year. The escalation from the beginning of July to now is exponential and it feels like there are sicker and more patients in the hospital now than January of this year,” McKown said. 

As a University of Georgia  alum, McKown said he was disappointed with the lack of a mask and vaccine mandate on UGA’s campus. He explained the importance of wearing masks and getting vaccinated. 

“The fact that they have made a statement policy that not only are they not mandating masks but they will not allow local jurisdictions to make decisions to mandate masks … is just absurd to me because it says that the University of System of Georgia has stated that discomfort of some individuals or the need to have comfort for some individuals by not wearing masks outweighs the health and safety of those people suffering. I just can’t stand by that,” McKown said. 

I also asked Dr. McKown about his thoughts on a booster shot. 

Since our interview, the Food and Drug Administration approved booster shots for people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago and fall into certain categories. The FDA approved booster shots to people who are either at least 65 years old or adults who are “at high risk of severe COVID-19” or who work or live in high-risk settings.

Health care professionals have been working tirelessly this past year and a half taking care of patients. I decided to ask McKown about his and his colleagues’ mental health.

“We have each other. We lean on each other. We do OK. I think that there has been, unfortunately, an exodus of nurses and respiratory therapists who have said, ‘I’m done with this. I don’t want to do this anymore,’” McKown said. “I think what makes it particularly hard now, is that this is a preventable illness … Right now, 97% of the people are unvaccinated in the hospital.”

I ended the interview by asking McKown what else he would like people to know. 

“This would not be a problem right now if people were vaccinated. I have looked at people such as a wife who has had to say goodbye to her husband for the final time. He was scared of the vaccine,” McKown said. “Wear a mask and get vaccinated. Vaccination will save lives.”

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