Back in March — back when COVID-19 was still called the coronavirus and people didn’t quite know what to think of it or how much to worry about it — Holy Name Medical Center CEO Mike Maron was one of the first to sound the alarm.
Teaneck wasn’t just the epicenter of the outbreak in New Jersey, it was one of the few hot spots. Maron — when he had just nine cases in the ICU — prophetically warned others that the surge was coming. He was right.
Now, as the numbers come down, he has another warning:
“I can tell you this confidently: The downside of the curve is going to be a hundred times harder than the upside,” he told ROI-NJ. “It’s a lot easier for me to just shut down everything else and just focus on one thing. Even with all that we did here, building all those ICUs, scrambling to find PPE, educating our staff and the community — it’s easier to do all that when you’re focused on a single problem.
“Now, we’ve all got this problem: How do we bring everybody back, keep them safe and still manage this trickle in of COVID patients coming in. And, if there’s a surge again, are the other businesses just going to shut down again?
“Dealing with the public confidence and dealing with that anxiety and fears that come with it is very real. You can’t ignore it.”
Maron and Holy Name — like every other hospital and every other health official — are still trying to understand the new normal.
He is delighted the number of cases is dropping — that we appear to have broken the back of the curve. But that is just one curve, Maron said.
“If you break it down, there’s probably a half-dozen other curves,” he said. “There’s a depth curve. There’s an active case curve. There’s a positive case versus negative case curve. The one that bothers me the most is what I call the response curve.
“Where are we today on our ability to respond to this virus?”
Not in a good place, he answered.
“We still have major supply chain issues,” he said. “We still have testing issues. I can’t get the reagents I need to test people. And, if I can’t test people, then I’m back into guessing. And, even if I can test people, there are still concerns on how accurate the tests are.”
Right now, Maron said he has enough to do 500 tests. A total he said he could go through in just a few days. He won’t, he said, because he has no assurances he’ll get more.
“That’s not just me, that’s everybody,” he said. “How can we start opening up if we have not restored our own strength and viability, nor have we made the across-the-board system improvements from round one to go into round two, a little smarter, a little better, a little more prepared.
“This is nobody’s fault — it just shows what I mean when I still say we are on the wrong side of the response curve.”
Maron has nothing but good things to say about Gov. Phil Murphy. He came to the aid of Holy Name when it mattered most — and he’s done an unbelievable job around the state, Maron said.
A job Maron thinks only those on the inside of the crisis appreciate.
“My heart breaks for the man, because he saved countless lives and he’s not going to get any appreciation for it, because there’s no way to know for certain,” he said. “But everyone on the front line will tell you without a doubt, he saved tens of thousands of lives.”
Maron understands the desire to open up. Even in hard-hit Teaneck there’s a call for it.
“The community is getting a little antsy,” he said. “I realized the pains on the economy. But, from a viral standpoint, social distancing worked. And it continues to work. So now the question is, because of the economic pressures, which are real, how do you start to reopen?”
Murphy has created a number of committees to analyze the situation. Maron said those committees need to start with people on the front line.
“My message right now is that any policy going forward should not be done by academics and people who are removed,” he said. “If you didn’t spend at least a week on the front lines in an ICU, in an emergency room, seeing these patients, then you’re not technically qualified to call policy judgment as to what should happen.
“Again, I think that’s where Murphy deserves a lot of credit, right? He was pulsing that the whole way through. He wasn’t just relying on academics who are looking at theory. I applaud him for that, but he’s under pressure from all ends now.”
It’s the reason why there aren’t a lot of upsides to the downside of the main curve.
“This is just starting,” he said.