April 29, 2020 COVID Update

Dear Friends,

We hope this finds you continuing to be safe, well and healthy.

The weeks continue in this upended life for all of us and with the advent of spring we are feeling a bit more unsettled as to when this will come to an end. LifeFlight is still treating and transporting known and presumed COVID patients every day in our helicopters, airplane and ground ambulances. As with everyone in medicine, the worry of acquiring the disease and taking it home is tough on our clinical team and pilots. A significant percentage of positive infected patients are healthcare workers on the front lines.

Through the support of our donors, we have been able to acquire specialized equipment to improve safety of infectious disease transport and continue our work with partners across the country to improve clinical care and response.  

The good news is that the rate of new confirmed COVID-19 infections in Maine is not as steep as in other areas of the country. The curve is slowly flattening, and our EMS system and hospitals are maintaining capacity to manage these complex patients. The system has also been able to return to providing the entirety of the care spectrum which was put on hold to manage the surge despite huge financial challenges.

The above noted, we are only at the beginning stages of understanding this complex disease. Each week the largest international scientific effort in history shares experience and describes new pathology from the cardiac effects of micro emboli and vascular damage which accompany the disease and affect a patient’s heart, brain, lungs, GI tract and kidneys. Participating in this international community of physicians allows LifeFlight’s clinical management to be constantly updated which we, in turn, share with our colleagues on the front lines. 

In addition to the clinical challenges, the time scale of this disease is complex. The biggest challenge remains widespread testing to obtain a clear picture of risks across the population coupled with a system for contact tracing and isolation of new infections. This is the same story across the media nationally. In addition to insufficient testing across the population, we have a challenge with negative tests. Someone who is asymptomatic may be contagious and never tested or may be contagious for up to several days before symptoms appear.

Further, we see patients who are critically ill with classic COVID symptoms who test negative. While the current tests are specific in identifying positive infection, they are not as sensitive as needed to clearly identify negative infections. Some patients who test negative go on to test positive several days later. At best, a negative test is a moment in time and there is some evidence that current negative tests may only be 75% accurate. Serology testing, which looks for the presence of antibodies, is only in beginning stages.

This is the challenge in restoring life to normal. There is huge effort by the Maine CDC, medical leaders, the governor, and business leaders to develop the necessary metrics to reopen Maine which will gradually begin next week with the first phase of re-opening businesses. The timing for the phases remains fluid and the virus will tell us when it is completely safe for the next phases over the next few months. 

If you are returning to Maine for the summer, a good place to be, please check status with your local community leaders and with the Maine CDC for helpful information on what you can do to keep your family and your community safe and well.

We are all in this together. Our huge thanks for helping LifeFlight be there when needed.
On behalf of the LifeFlight team, 
Thomas Judge, ParamedicExecutive Director
Norm Dinerman, MD, FACEPMedical Director