As an ER physician, Dr. Ryan Jordanhazy is one of the first team members possible COVID-19 patients see when they arrive at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center. As the medical director for the emergency department, he has a big-picture view of what goes on there. And with the coronavirus, it can be an unsettling image.

The region he serves along the North Carolina coast had a manageable number of COVID-19 cases until just after the holidays. “There was a major outbreak recently at a nursing home here that has really filled up the hospital,” Jordanhazy said. “And it spreads from there.” Staff and family of people who lived in the nursing home started showing up sick at the hospital, as well.

And moments like this can trigger a domino effect that can tax the hospital overall.

“People who get admitted with COVID often require oxygen,” he said. “It’s not as if the next day they're better and can go home. There’s no cure, and the treatments come with their own risks. We admit them to the hospital, and a lot of times they end up being here for seven to 10 days. That has a cascading effect on room availability and resources.”

People who come to the ER suspecting COVID-19 show up with a variety of complaints. “Many have flu-like symptoms – fever, body aches, loss of sense of taste and smell,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ll see GI-related symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, but mainly it's more respiratory – congestion, cough, shortness of breath, dizziness.”

This is not the flu

COVID-19 is a lot more contagious and a lot more serious than the flu, Jordanhazy warned. "We're seeing a big uptick in deaths this winter,especially in this area. People had generally been good about following the masking guidelines and social distancing. But everyone’s gotten sick and tired of it. Around the holidays, people let their guard down and got together with family.”

" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen >The hospital is doing its part to vaccinate the community. “We have a big vaccine clinic that the hospital is running,” he said. “We’ve been doing over 500 a day and are trying to get to 1,000 a day. It’s ramping up nicely.”

As you’d expect, Jordanhazy has gotten the vaccine and had no qualms about it. In fact, he said he would’ve taken it “months and months ago had it been available. The risks of not getting the vaccine and getting COVID and potentially spreading it to someone unknowingly are far too great.”

He has himself, his patients and team members to think of – and also a wife and their toddler and newborn. “I change clothes right away when I get home,” he said. “I don't bring anything inside that I took to work. I avoid any close contact until I change clothes and shower.”

And he trusts the science. “I think the data is solid and the trials were robust,” he continued. “There was good safety and efficacy data. I know some people are hesitant, but we’re at the point where I think you have to trust that these people – experts in their fields – know what they're doing.”

He had no side effects after the first shot, which he said “is generally par for the course.” 

“With the second one, you have a bigger chance of side effects,” he said. “I had some flu-like fevers and chills and a general malaise that lasted maybe half a day or so.” It was a brief inconvenience that he figures will have a big payoff.

“We’ve got to hold on,” he said. “The vaccine is finally starting to roll out. I hope everyone will get the vaccine as soon as it’s their turn. It’s really the light at the end of the tunnel.”