POSTED: March 25, 2020

Dr. Oliver Sartor on COVID-19

 Dr. Oliver Sartor, the Laborde Professor of Cancer Research in the Medicine and Urology Departments of the Tulane School of Medicine, is one of the leading researchers in advanced prostate cancer today. He is also the editor-in-chief of Clinical Genitourinary Cancer and the author of more than 400 scientific papers.

Dr. Sartor spoke with us about what the coronavirus-19 pandemic means for prostate cancer patients.

 Can you give us an update on what you are seeing this week with COVID-19?

Dr. Oliver Sartor: What we're seeing this week is a dramatic change in behavior for both our patients and our staff. Everyone is practicing social distancing. Everyone is taking this seriously. The bars and restaurants in New Orleans are closed and there are virtually no visitors in the city.

In terms of our clinic operations, we have dramatically scaled back any visit that is not urgent. Many prostate cancer patients have urgent issues, such as chemotherapy, and we are providing appropriate care to those patients who have significant needs. However, for routine monitoring or for patients who are stable, we're trying to obtain our laboratory testing outside of our major facility or to defer the laboratory testing altogether until we have a safer environment. Many of my patients are elderly, and of course they all have prostate cancer. We're telling patients to stay at home and to socially isolate unless there's a strong need to do otherwise, and the patients are listening. They're doing what they need to do.

Do you have any new recommendations for patients this week? 

Dr. Sartor: What is interesting is that the population as a whole is listening and acting on the recommendations of our leaders and our physicians. Last week, there was a sense by some that this was being overblown, that it wasn't so serious, that this was just going to pass like a little wave and let us all go back to our normal business. But this week, everyone is taking the recommendations seriously. A lot of people are scared. Our recommendations for patients have not changed, but the receptivity toward listening has changed dramatically.

We're advising patients to communicate with their physicians. Hopefully, there is an established communication portal so patients can ask questions and seek help if there is symptomatic need. We're trying to make sure that we're available not only for cancer related problems, but also for problems that may arise in other issues of their life, including diarrhea, diabetes, or the possibility of COVID-19 infection. A lot of physicians are overwhelmed and don't have the ability to respond during this critical time, so our group is actively involved in not just the prostate cancer needs of our patients, but the other needs as well.

Are you and your colleagues taking steps to protect yourself?

Dr. Sartor: We're screening every patient for temperature and with a questionnaire regarding symptoms at the entrance of our clinic. If a patient has any symptoms or suspicious issues for COVID-19, we're isolating the patient immediately so they don't go into our main waiting room. They're evaluated by a physician prior to having access to the rest of the clinic.

In terms of what we're doing personally, we're not masking and gowning. We believe that there's a potential for shortage of medical supplies, and that those masks and gowns ought to go to those who are truly on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. We are practicing social distancing and we're translating many of our normal clinic visits into phone calls, texts, and emails in an effort to stay in touch, thereby minimizing contact with those coming in from the outside world.

I have a sense of optimism over how people are responding to the overall situation. The concern has reached many people across the population with a few exceptions, perhaps those down in Florida on the beaches. But overall, people are listening and doing the right thing, and I believe it'll pay dividends.

I could not help but notice that China reported zero new Chinese COVID-19 cases today. If we do the isolation, the follow up, and the careful monitoring, then we're going to be much better off and we'll flatten that curve, or even invert the curve.

The one thing that is still lacking in the United States is adequate testing. There are issues related to testing that are rather silly with regard to transportation vials and swabs in addition to those who actually perform the test. I hope next week we see a dramatic increase in the ability for testing to occur among those who need it because the COVID-19 testing is restricted too much. But I'm confident we'll see an improvement in testing ability.

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