On the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak: An expert in infectious disease preparedness describes how she readies healthcare workers
  • Dr. Syra Madad, who was featured in the new Netflix docu-series "Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak," said the coronavirus outbreak has "accelerated" her workday in infectious disease preparedness.
  • Madad told Business Insider that she has to hold "just-in-time trainings" for healthcare workers in New York hospitals in line with the information and clinical guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is constantly evolving.
  • Despite the importance of her industry, Madad said her career choice also incites "fear, stigma, and anxiety" due to inaccurate rumors and disinformation that inevitably comes with infectious disease outbreaks.
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The first scene of Netflix's new docuseries "Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak" is harrowing: Doctors rush to triage patients with an unknown ailment as they struggle to breathe.

It's also a simulation — one run by Dr. Syra Madad, who works in infectious disease preparedness. She trains hospitals and doctors in New York City on what to do in the event of the current novel coronavirus outbreak.

She said the current outbreak as "accelerated" her workday, as she is constantly holding just-in-time trainings for healthcare workers.

"We want to make sure we're preparing our facilities for that particular event," Madad told Business Insider. "So with the coronavirus disease, you know, things that we need to do is basically making sure that we have plans, guidance documents, and processes in place at our facilities."

"So, right now, basically, we're in kind of an accelerated mode, if you will, to try to make sure that we're keeping up with everything that's going on, and that we're providing the resources to our frontline staff," she continued.

As of Friday, the coronavirus death toll surpassed 3,500, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases worldwide. The US has over 300 cases and 17 deaths.

She said she conducts a lot of "just-in-time trainings" with medical professionals in New York, constantly teaching and updating them on proper practices to care for coronavirus patients as more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Preparedness (CDC) and public health officials is released.

"We do a lot of infection control precautions, which is basically the basic ones that we constantly do every day, but we're reiterating the importance of basic infection control," Madad said. "The clinical guidance through the CDC and public health continues to change because the epidemic continues to evolve, and new information is learned almost every hour, every day."

"We want to make sure that our frontline staff has the most up to date clinical guidance from public health," she continued.

The first episode of the Netflix docuseries takes viewers through an outbreak simulation.

Even in those simulations,in which healthcare professionals care for models and practice treatments in rapid, high-risk environments, Madad said medical workers can burn through masks and gloves while caring for patients.

While some healthcare workers may prioritize helping the patient over themselves, Madad said they need to consider that they won't be any help to anyone if they end up getting infected due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Therefore, it is also a part of her job to provide the protective equipment to medical professionals at the frontline of the disease.

"At the end of the day, you know, the biggest asset that we have is our people," Madad added. "We want to make sure that they have all the tools, all the resources, all the plans and processes that they need to be able to identify these patients, isolate them care for them, and then obviously, notify appropriate internal and external contacts.

"So we're doing a lot of that, you know, on a constant basis," she said.

Despite the importance of her industry, Madad said her career choice also incites "fear, stigma, and anxiety" due to inaccurate rumors and disinformation.

"I remember my dentist giving me a call canceling my routine appointments because they were scared because they knew I was part of the Ebola search team," she said, adding that she thinks the stigma could also be applied to doctors and nurses treating patients of infectious diseases, and the coronavirus is no different.

"This is something that we often see in a number of different infectious disease outbreaks," she said. "We just have to, obviously, continue to do our job in terms of educating the public of what the actual threat level is."

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