The COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, has dramatically changed life here and abroad. Among the many sweeping and unprecedented changes is GIRF’s rescheduling of its annual ball from May 30, 2020 to October 31, 2020. While disappointing to all of GIRF’s members, it is just one of many steps taken to reduce the impact of this global pandemic on the broader community. GIRF’s mission, and support of the University of Chicago Medicine Digestive Diseases Center has never been more critical, as UChicago Medicine is on the front lines of this pandemic.
David T. Rubin, MD, GIRF Scientific Advisor, and Co-Director of the Digestive Diseases Center at the University of Chicago Medicine is co-directing an international effort to address COVID-19 in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. This effort on the part of the International Organization for the study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, has already made many important recommendations about COVID-19 for Crohn’s and Colitis patients.
In recent communications, Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and President of the University of Chicago Health System, Kenneth Polonsky, MD, highlighted the strengths of the UChicago Medicine community during this time, explaining, “Pritzker medical students have volunteered in large numbers to serve as infection control monitors, to donate blood, and to perform telephone triage of patients. Graduate students in basic science laboratories across the University have offered to assist with COVID-19 testing, and basic science faculty have offered use of their [specialized equipment] to aid in the testing effort.” The University community is also consolidating PPE (personal protective equipment, i.e., masks, gowns, and eye protection) from research labs and other organizations on campus to aid in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Critically, UChicago Medicine implemented a new higher throughput COVID-19 testing platform within 72 hours of FDA approval, markedly increasing capacity to test for the disease and reduce turnaround time. UChicago Medicine also established an appointment-only drive-up clinic and walk-in center for COVID-19 testing, providing results for patients within 24 hours, one of the first such facilities in the city of Chicago.
As everyday life shifts to a new normal of social-distancing, quarantine, sheltering in place, working from home, and sadly, widespread illness caused by the virus, the University of Chicago Medicine Digestive Diseases Center has modified operations to accommodate the massive changes to health care required to help contain this outbreak. These changes underscore UChicago Medicine’s commitment to patient care, and permit research to continue with minimal disruption. Some of these changes include:
1) Visitors are no longer permitted at the University of Chicago Medical Center or Ingalls Memorial Hospital. Different restrictions apply at Comer Children’s Hospital and some other facilities.
2) Most appointments will transition to virtual visits on the phone, via video, or through online correspondence, in an effort to help patients stay on their medications and healthy, while supporting social distancing and sheltering in place.
3) Endoscopic procedures for screening and surveillance are being rescheduled.
4) Basic science, clinical, and translational research has been halted, outside of research essential to understanding and curing COVID-19, with transitions to remote work for lab members and contingency plans for affected ongoing research projects.
Still, Russell D. Cohen, MD, Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the University of Chicago Medicine explains, “If your disease is flaring, you need to communicate with your healthcare team here, and may require an in-person evaluation — and that’s safe and okay: We have specific procedures in place regarding protective equipment and hygiene. There will be no observers or anyone other than essential personnel in the clinic or procedure unit during this time.”
“We are here for you,” adds David T. Rubin, MD, Lead Scientific Advisor and Chief of the Section of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. “Please know that the medical community is working around the clock to reduce the impact of this pandemic. We will get through this difficult time together.”