COVID-19: A vet’s perspective


By Chad Higgins, DVM - Guest columnist



I have been a veterinarian for over 30 years and have owned my own business for over 20 years. I thought I had seen about everything my profession could throw at me.

Through the years there have been significant changes and challenges. I have seen many newly developed procedures to treat patients, incredible medicines to improve the length and quality of the life of my patients, newly recognized diseases in pets, and a growing bond that pet owners enjoy with their pets.

As a small business owner, there is always the constant effort to balance the cost of staff, inventory, increasing regulations we are required to follow, new equipment and building maintenance with the money coming into the business. After 20 years in business, these changes and challenges became easy to deal with and I just kept carrying on.

When I heard the first reports of this new virus, I just shook my head at what I assumed was just another media-generated frenzy that would amount to nothing and certainly wouldn’t affect the country much more than the seasonal flu that we have dealt with for many years. It was obvious within just a few days that this was going to be different. The CDC and almost every other health official were sounding the alarm that this was different and needed to be taken much more seriously. Clearly, this was a challenge unlike any other seen by businesses in this country.

In Ohio, Gov. DeWine and other state officials started sounding the alarm louder and earlier than just about every other state. They implored everyone in the state to socially distance ourselves. Restaurants were closed to everything but carry out and drive-thru service. Movie theaters were closed. Hair salons and barbershops were closed. Within a short period of time, the order to stay at home was given. Only “essential” businesses were to remain open, and we were told to only leave home when absolutely necessary. We were told we could go to the grocery, go to the doctor, go to financial institutions and take pets that needed medical attention to veterinarians.

Veterinarians were specifically mentioned as essential in the stay-at-home order. Before this order, veterinarians had been asked to limit elective surgeries and procedures to preserve personal protective equipment that we use. The stay-at-home order further restricted veterinary visits to pets that had illnesses or conditions that needed treatment.

As a small business owner, it was a relief that I could stay open to take care of patients, but this presented a real dilemma. Veterinarians and veterinary staffs obviously want to care for their patients, but this needed to be balanced with protecting ourselves and clients from possible exposure to COVID-19. If one member of a veterinary staff would be exposed, then everyone would be quarantined and no longer able to care for patients.

Based on discussions with veterinary colleagues and recommendations from our state veterinary organization, we decided to no longer have pet owners enter the building, except in very specific and rare instances. Clients pull into the parking lot and a staff member goes out to discuss the pet’s condition and the pet is then brought into the clinic to be evaluated and treated. Then the staff member or I will go out to the owner to discuss the evaluation and recommended treatment. The pet is then taken out to the car and we collect payment outside.

Pet owners have been very understanding of how we need to go about caring for their pets and they have been very appreciative of our efforts. In spite of this minimal interaction, my staff has been continuously washing their hands, mopping floors and wiping down all surfaces throughout the building all day long. If your pet has an issue that needs treated, contact your veterinarian’s office to find out their policy during this difficult time.

While veterinarians in the area are certainly inconvenienced by this situation, our concerns pale in comparison to the real heroes in this pandemic — the healthcare workers on the front lines. I have talked to several people who work at area hospitals and they are getting ready for the influx of patients expected to be arriving over the next few weeks. A huge thank you to all healthcare workers and their dedication to the communities that they serve.

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By Chad Higgins, DVM

Guest columnist

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