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“We do what we have to do.” – Health care workers accept coronavirus risks

While most of us are self-quarantined at home, doctors, nurses and other health care workers are heading out of their front doors and off to work. For most health care workers, a certain amount of risk, including from the coronavirus, is considered part of the job.

Dr. Jeffrey Zlotnick, primary care physician, says he understands and accepts the risks of his job during the coronavirus threat – PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Karen Godtfring, a physical therapy assistant who lives in Macungie, works for a private company that provides one-on-one in-home physical therapy visits.

“I’m not feeling anxious or fearful personally,” she said of the risk of working during the pandemic. “Not at this point. But things are changing all the time.”

For the most part, she said, her patients don’t have contact with the outside world, and are unlikely to expose her to anything contagious.

“I’m more concerned about exposing them to the virus,” she said, “because they are often elderly and immune-suppressed, which puts them more at risk of complications.”

Godtfring says that she makes an effort to touch patients as little as possible and to wash her hands frequently. She will also wear a mask if she sees fit and won’t see patients who have symptoms matching those of the coronavirus.

“Physical therapy is considered an essential service,” she said, “so we must go to work, even while our administrative offices are closed. We do what we have to do.”

Dr. Jeffrey Zlotnick, a primary care physician with Penn State Health St. Joseph, also considers the health risks involved in his profession during the pandemic as something he “signed up for.” Zlotnick is currently in a 14 day quarantine at home after attending a medical conference in
Hershey. While no one who attended the conference became sick thus far, precautions are being taken because of the high number of people in attendance. He returns to work on March 23.

“I’m not overtly nervous,” Zlotnick said. “I knew the risks when I went into this job. You are going to be touching people. You are the first line of defense in a public health crisis. Don’t do stupid stuff. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wear gloves, tight fitting masks and gowns if needed.”

Zlotnick says that one of the ways health care workers learn to cope with the risks and stresses involved is with humor. “If you are in it long enough, you develop a gallows humor,” he said.

Zlotnick says that it is important for people to be smart and to continue to isolate themselves. “There are people who aren’t getting it,” he said. “They are still going out. I know it is a pain. But don’t go out. This is way more infectious than the flu. It goes after the elderly. And people who are symptomatic may be carriers. There are a lot more questions than answers at this point.”

“The statistics change on a minute to minute basis,” he added. “It is better to overreact than to underreact.”

Dawn Ouellette Nixon
Dawn Ouellette Nixon is a career journalist who believes that good journalism can change the world. As the health care reporter, she covers everything from small town medicine to big pharma. You can also find her chasing a good business story in Berks County. She can be reached at or 610-807-9619, extension 4118.

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