Dr. Jabraan Pasha of OU Physicians spoke with KWGS about the readiness of Tulsa's hospital system to deal with rising COVID-19 rates, the city's new mask mandate, and his experience being a health care provider during a pandemic in his own hometown. The interview, conducted Wednesday, was edited for time and clarity.
KWGS: What's the sort of overhead general state of how Tulsa is doing right now?
PASHA: Well, you know, you can really just take a look at the numbers that are being reported from the Tulsa Health Department and see that we're really in a spot that we haven't been in since the pandemic started. Our trends are trending in a dangerous direction. It feels that we're at a turning point. If the appropriate interventions are initiated, we might have a chance to kind of right the ship, but we seem to be approaching a point where if nothing is done, things could really start to get scary.
KWGS: Mayor Bynum has said that he is starting to hear from hospital leaders that they're concerned about trends, but that capacity is at an okay point for now. Is that accurate?
PASHA: We're not necessarily at the point right now where we're having to make decisions on who gets ICU care and who we can bring into the hospital. But the way pandemics work is, these viruses, with exponential spread capabilities, can really change the narrative really quickly. Once things start to get the steepness on the curve, things can change dramatically week over week, if not day over day. So we are in a spot where we're seeing the number of admissions across Tulsa go up, and it's truly concerning for the health care officials and hospital workers.
KWGS: When we hear about health care system capacity, we think a lot about beds, ICU beds, ventilators, things like that. What about staffing? Is that a concern? I imagine it must be exhausting, and, also, I imagine that doctors and nurses are at a high risk of catching the virus and then that puts them out of commission, right?
PASHA: That is where a lot of institutions are starting to see some strain. And then add on top of that the exposures that are bound to happen, inevitably, in the hospital, which then puts your nurses and your doctors out for two weeks. So there is a big strain on staffing that seems to be going on across the city.
KWGS: And it's got to be emotionally draining too, right?
PASHA: Yeah, yeah, it's exhausting for the providers. And I'm not a physician that's currently manning any COVID units, but for my colleagues that are, they are getting burnt out. It's very stressful, tireless, tiring work, and it's scary. And I think kind of adding to the stress is the reality of driving around town and going to the grocery store and you see that many of our community members have not bought into taking proper precautions, in terms of social distancing and putting masks on when they're in public. That really adds to the frustration that some of the health care workers have right now.
KWGS: You brought up masks. What do you think of the mask mandate that's been approved by the city council and the mayor? Do you think it's the right move? And is it possible that this is too late?
PASHA: I don't know what point on the curve is stated to be the last opportunity to slow things down, but I know, just practically, it's all we have. We don't have a vaccine. We don't have a magic bullet in terms of treatment, and so getting an ordinance passed like several other cities have passed recently is really all we have to throw at this.
KWGS: Last time we spoke it was mid-June. You had written a letter, and you got a couple hundred health care providers to sign it, asking Mayor Bynum to intervene and prevent the Trump rally at the BOK Center. Obviously the rally happened -- were you disappointed? Do you see direct results from that in the hospitals?
PASHA: You know, there's no way to know. I don't want to speculate. You can say for certain that infections came out of that rally because we've had reports of infections coming out of that rally, but I don't think we have an idea of just how many. But there was surely some impact on our numbers. There's no way to really pin down exactly how much.
I was just disappointed that our community was put in that position, purely from a health care worker's perspective of being closer to this than most. I was just terribly concerned about what the following weeks and months could look like.
KWGS: You say you're closer to this than most, and I think you mean as a doctor in a hospital. But you're also from here. Do you feel any added, I don't know, responsibility or emotional connection to seeing Tulsa through this pandemic.
PASHA: Absolutely. You know, I think being a Tulsan who was born and raised here, this is home, and you always feel a certain way about home. You want the best. You always want the best for every place, but you especially want the best for your home. And you also want the decisions that are coming out of your city to be the decisions that are putting your city in the best place to be as safe as possible.