‘Everyone in my life so far has been affected’: UCSF Fresno fellow flies home to country’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic

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FRESNO, California (KSEE) — As the headlines came in describing the dire situation in New York, Dr. William Chiang was in the middle of a wilderness medicine fellowship at UCSF Fresno.

A native of New York City, he’d learn a friend of his not only tested positive, but also got put into the intensive care unit of a hospital. So, after getting the call requesting his return to help, he couldn’t say no.

“My medical school is now the designated hot spot in Kings County in Brooklyn,” he said. “Everyone in my life so far as been affected [by this pandemic].”

Chiang got on a plane Sunday and by Monday he was already at work.

“My first day was, ‘Hey, show up to this hospital, we’re going to credential you,’” Chiang said. “We were done by noon and then they said, ‘Hey, you’re going to work today.’”

An overwhelmed New York City hospital isn’t new Chiang. However, he’s never seen them this strained for such a long amount of time.

He said he arrived days after the city’s projected peak and immediately saw first-hand the conditions facing hospital staff.

“The hospital director has taken me around their department, they would point at a closet and say, ‘We’ve fit 50 people in here last week,’” Chiang said.

A promising thing for him to see: patient volumes coming down. However, the amount of patients in critical condition are still relatively high, according to Chiang.

As talks of re-opening the economy in phases ramp up, Chiang is concerned if people abandon guidance like social distancing — then COVID-19 could have the country back on its knees.

“If we don’t nip this in the bud, if we open prematurely, then there’s a very real reality that it could come again,” he said.

For the next two weeks, Chiang said he’ll be working every day. Right now, he doesn’t know when he’ll return to the Central Valley.

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