BELLINGHAM – An emergency room physician who publicly decried what he called a lack of protective measures against the novel coronavirus at his workplace, PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center, has been fired.
Ming Lin, who has worked at the hospital for 17 years and became a local cause célèbre for his pleas for more safety equipment and more urgent measures to protect staff, was informed of his termination as he was preparing for a shift at the hospital Friday afternoon, he said.
“I got a message that said, ‘Your shift has been covered,’” Lin told The Seattle Times. He phoned his supervisor and was told, “You’ve been terminated.” Lin said he was told he would be contacted by human resources staff from his employer, TeamHealth, a national firm that contracts with PeaceHealth’s emergency department.
TeamHealth could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesperson for PeaceHealth St. Joseph confirmed that Lin had been fired but said the hospital had no comment because Lin wasn’t a PeaceHealth employee.
Lin said supervisors threatened his employment more than a week ago after he spoke to reporters and made social media posts accusing PeaceHealth of a lack of urgency to protect health care workers from the virus.
Lin said he was told to take down his social media posts about the hospital but refused.
He continued to post daily updates on Facebook after shifts at the emergency room, although many of his posts had shifted away from hospital practices to efforts to help secure more protective equipment for hospital workers.
“As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, experts have started to question official guidance about whether ordinary, healthy people should protect themselves with a regular surgical mask, or even a scarf.
The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to state that masks don’t necessarily protect healthy individuals from getting infected as they go about their daily lives.
The official guidance continues to recommend that masks should be reserved for people who are already sick, as well as for the health workers and caregivers who must interact with infected individuals on a regular basis. Everyone else, they say, should stick to frequent hand-washing and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from other people to protect themselves.
But the recent surge in infections in the United States, which has put the country at the center of the epidemic, with more confirmed cases than China, Italy or any other country, means that more Americans are now at risk of getting sick. And healthy individuals, especially those with essential jobs who cannot avoid public transportation or close interaction with others, may need to start wearing masks more regularly.
“The swift increase in cases to these levels in the U.S. highlights to an even greater degree the importance of implementing and adhering to public health measures,” said Dr. Robert Atmar, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine.
While wearing a mask may not necessarily prevent healthy people from getting sick, and it certainly doesn’t replace important measures such as hand-washing or social distancing, it may be better than nothing, Dr. Atmar said.
There is very little data showing that flat surgical masks, in particular, have a protective effect for the general public. Masks work by stopping infected droplets spewing from the wearer’s nose or mouth, rather than stopping the acquisition of virus from others. That is why the W.H.O. and C.D.C. recommend that people already infected with the coronavirus wear masks, to protect others who may come into close contact with them. Health workers wear masks because they interact with sick patients regularly and often have to lean close for important medical procedures, exposing themselves to higher amounts of viral particles. And if healthy individuals start stockpiling surgical masks and high-grade N95 masks, they can also make it harder for health workers to get the resources they need to help on the front lines.
But studies of influenza pandemics have shown that when high-grade N95 masks are not available, surgical masks do protect people a bit more than not wearing masks at all. And when masks are combined with hand hygiene, they help reduce the transmission of infections.
Remind your friends and neighbors