March 9, 2020 | STAT

Doctors working while sick is bad enough in ordinary times. During the Covid-19 outbreak it could be catastrophic

By Steve Joffe:

Earlier this winter, before the coronavirus outbreak, I spoke by phone with a colleague who was about to start work for two weeks as an attending physician at a major medical center. As we spoke, she was coughing and I could hear that she was congested and hoarse.

Yet she worked through her illness, diligently wearing a mask, washing her hands, and hoping against hope not to infect any patients or coworkers in the process. The decision she made to work while sick is so common that it has a name of its own: presenteeism. It is widespread among health care workers.

It’s bad enough in ordinary times for a doctor or nurse to work while sick. But as Covid-19 hits hospitals, as it almost certainly will, the tendency of health care professionals to work through illness will present a serious threat to both patient safety and the public’s health.

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