Medical workers are projected to be stretched thin over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the coronavirus may be having an unforeseen impact on the medical care community here in Hawaii.

Staffing shortages nationally have retired nurses and doctors being asked to get back to work. Meanwhile, according to the Department of Health, the disease is also putting some private practices out of business, creating a domino effect of strain onto hospitals.

“One problem that we’re hearing about, and that is a lot of private physicians, not a lot but quite a few private physicians are closing up their practices because probably because of concerns about COVID-19.” DOH Director Bruce Anderson said.

Many private practices aren’t accustomed to the demand of infectious diseases like COVID-19, leaving them without the proper protective equipment to handle coronavirus patients.

“There’s a PPE (personal protective equipment) issue many of them aren’t used to wearing PPE or don’t have any supplies in stock.” Anderson said.

Dr. Alan Wu, who runs a private practice, has seen many of his peers get out of harm’s way.

“A number of them are already closed that I know. I have a few friends who are not practicing right now. They’re at home because they don’t have the capability.”

Anderson says this puts a heavy burden of patients on hospitals, but some private practices like Wu’s Doctors of Waikiki remain open through being creative and taking donations, especially for N95 masks that protect healthcare workers from COVID-19.

“We face every constraint that other private practices are facing but we made a point to continue our operations and we are using old N95’s because we have such limited supply here. We spray down after each and every use.” Dr. Wu said.

Just like many physicians and nurses, Dr. Wu’s life doesn’t return to normal when he gets home at night.

“We’ve got positive test patients. We continue to work but when I go home I can’t sleep in the same bed as my wife and my child, my infant so I slept on the couch for a week until my own test came back.” Dr. Wu said.

The DOH is willing to help keep the private practices operational.

“Just know that we are wanting to support the private physicians in providing equipment and supplies if that’s the issue.” Anderson said.

Dr. Wu wants to assure Hawaii residents that good medical care is available, even for those who may have lost their primary care physician due to private practice care.

“We’re doing everything outside of what’s normal in a regular doctors urgent care center like ours to help the community. We want this thing to go away. We want to flatten the curve and we’re doing the best we can and we are actively testing people. The only way we are going to get our community back in full operation is by testing more people. If you just test a lot of small little pockets you’re not going to get this controlled. You need to test even more and when people are asymptomatic and we’re not testing it and they’re going home to test their 95-year-old grandmother or their 65-year-old father who has COPD that is dangerous. We need to even screen people who are asymptomatic right now because a lot of people especially young people. We want to make sure you’re safe. We need to test you. And if I test you today I should test you again in two weeks to make sure you continue to be safe. That’s how we flatten the curve. If you look at the other Asian countries that have gone back like China, they’re doing rapid testing among everybody. We beat this.”

A list of healthcare providers from the DOH can be found here.