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‘We’ve never seen a virus like this before’: Toronto-area doctor on rapid spread of coronavirus

Toronto-area doctor describes the front lines in wake of coronavirus pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: Splitting his time between a busy emergency room and his work as a chronic pain physician, Dr. Leon Rivlin has been working around the clock because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Caryn Lieberman reports, Dr. Rivlin says he has never seen a virus like this before.

Dr. Leon Rivlin was on the front lines during the SARS outbreak in 2003, but says the current coronavirus pandemic is nothing like that.

“We’ve never seen a virus like this before because it’s spreading without people even having symptoms .. it’s not like our experience with SARS,” he said, from a busy ambulance bay outside Humber River Hospital in Mississauga.

Dr. Rivlin is now the Chief and Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at the hospital, but also specializes in chronic pain and spends a great deal of time with patients at his pain clinic, Rivlin Medical Group.

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Ensuring chronic pain sufferers are not forgotten during the pandemic is a priority for him.

“In some cases it means we provide tele-medicine calls where we’re managing the care over the telephone over or a teleconference style interaction,” he explained.

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But it’s a different pace in the emergency room these days, the demands are high, and the father of three sons is having to make tough choices.

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“I find that it’s actually quite difficult on a personal level because I haven’t been seeing my kids at all, in fact, as a frontline healthcare worker, their mother and I have looked at options as to how to protect our kids best and they are with their mother most days,” he said.

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Dealing with the pandemic in his role at the hospital has also meant looking after the other healthcare workers and ensuring they are all well supported and protected.

“I do worry about our frontline workers, I worry about the well being of our patients, as well,” he said. “We need personal protective equipment that will prevent that kind of spread and what that really involves is something to shield our eyes, to shield our faces.”

Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) are already being reported in a number of Toronto-area hospitals.

These are items that can be life-saving for doctors and nurses as they provide an effective barrier against droplets released by sneezing or coughing.

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Dr. Rivlin explained the approach for healthcare workers right now is keeping in mind any patient can have COVID-19. It should be the same approach for anyone during this pandemic, he noted.

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“Every single person who you come into contact with might have COVID-19. It can be passed on from one individual to another when they don’t have symptoms,” he said.

“What we’re finding now is there’s an enormous amount of community spread so anybody could have it, so although we, and most organizations, ask about travel history, we really focus on all other aspects of potential illness,” he added.

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Dr. Rivlin said he believes this virus will serve as a turning point in many ways.

“I think that this is a very unifying disease that is going to help us with a world response effort and we’re seeing a lot of that as these research studies are coming out where we’re looking toward one another in order to help share our information to stop this problem.”