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'He makes it into a joke': For Philly COVID-19 patients, Trump's cavalier attitude stings

By Aubrey Whelan, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

But he also received an experimental antibody treatment made by Regeneron, which is still in clinical studies and out of reach for all but a few.

In Philadelphia, Temple University is running one of the trials needed to prove safety and effectiveness, but participants do not know whether they receive the drug or not. The drug is also available for "compassionate use" cases - patients in serious or life-threatening condition who aren't involved in the clinical study.

"What is extraordinary is the structure of care around him," said Anne Sutherland, a pulmonary and critical care physician and the director of the medical intensive care unit at Rutgers University Hospital in Newark. "Normal people do not get a helicopter to the hospital, normal people do not have 20 doctors for one patient. He makes it seem so easy. But the level of support, and the level to which he has people around him, allowing him to go back to work, is just not available to basically anybody else."

The dire need for support services is clear to community healthcare workers in Philadelphia who help patients navigate healthcare systems.

Mary White, of the Penn Center for Community Health Workers, said that these days, her first interaction with a patient is often reassuring them that they can get tested for the coronavirus even if they don't have insurance. Many of her clients lost their jobs and insurance during pandemic-induced layoffs.

"They're like, 'Where do I go? I've been laid off from my job. Is it free? How am I going to pay for it?' " she said. "These are things that they might not have been concerned with before."


Her patients often don't even have a place to quarantine - many of the families White works with in West Philly don't have enough room in their homes to effectively separate family members, she said.

Other patients will call with concerns about child care, about elderly relatives they care for, and about the risks to their own lives. People of color, especially Black people, contract the virus and die from it at disproportionate rates, national and local data have shown.

"Of course, when it was announced the president had it, he could get to the hospital right away, he got tested right away," White said. "For everyday people, it's hard enough just to find out where to go."

Another challenge: Many patients in Philadelphia are wary or even afraid of going to the hospital for care, said Tony Reed, the executive vice president and chief medical officer at Temple University Hospital.


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