Obstetrics during the COVID-19 pandemic


The identification of the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and emergence of the associated infectious respiratory disease, COVID-19, in late 2019 catapulted the citizens of the world, especially those in the health care professions, into an era of considerable uncertainty. At this moment in human history, calm reassurance – founded in fact and evidence – seems its greatest need. Much of the focus within the biomedical community has been on containment, prevention, and treatment of this highly contagious and, for some, extremely virulent disease.

Dr. E. Albert Reece, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the school of medicine.

Dr. E. Albert Reece

However, for ob.gyns on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight, there is the additional challenge of caring for at least two patients simultaneously: the mother and her unborn baby. Studies in mother-baby dyads, while being published at an incredible pace, are still quite scarce. In addition, published reports are limited by the small sample size of the patient population (many are single-case reports), lack of uniformity in the timing and types of clinical samples collected, testing delays, and varying isolation protocols in cases where the mother has confirmed SARS-CoV-2.

Five months into a pandemic that has swept the world, we still know very little about COVID-19 infection in the general population, let alone the obstetric one. We do not know if having and resolving COVID-19 infection provides any long-term protection against future disease. We do not know if vertical transmission of SARS-CoV-2 occurs. We do not know if maternal infection confers any immunologic benefit to the neonate. The list goes on.

What we do know is that taking extra precautions works. Use of personal protective equipment saves health care practitioner and patient lives. Prohibiting or restricting visitors to only one person in hospitals reduces risk of transmission to vulnerable patients. Shifting to fewer in-office prenatal consults decreases a pregnant woman’s potential exposure to the virus.

Additionally, we know that leading with compassion is vital to easing patient – and practitioner – anxiety and stress. Most importantly, we know that people are extraordinarily resilient, especially when it comes to safeguarding the health of their families.

To address some of the major concerns that many ob.gyns. have regarding their risk of coronavirus exposure when caring for patients, we have invited Ray Bahado-Singh, MD, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Oakland University, Rochester, Mich., and health system chair for obstetrics and gynecology at Beaumont Health System, who works in a suburb of Detroit, one of our nation’s COVID-19 hot spots.

Dr. Reece, who specializes in maternal-fetal medicine, is executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland School of Medicine as well as the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the school of medicine. He is the medical editor of this column. He said he had no relevant financial disclosures. Contact him at [email protected]

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