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Coronavirus in Florida: Why a Routine Trip to the Doctor’s Office Comes with Dose of Anxiety.

MSPB's Dr. Eric Weiner was featured in the Palm Beach Post!

Mar 19, 2020 at 6:31 AM

Palm Beach County residents worry about what they’ll find at health care stops in the age of coronavirus.

Marsha Cummings arrived early for her dermatologist appointment Wednesday morning in Jupiter. But instead of being asked to have a seat in the waiting room, she was asked to wait outside.

“That’s a first,″ she said, sitting on a sidewalk bench near the parking lot with her husband, Mark. That’s life during the coronavirus pandemic. And the Cummings’ had no complaints about the precautionary social-distancing measures used by Dr. Peter Vitulli, their dermatologist for more than 10 years.

Inside Vitulli’s waiting room, two patients sat in separate areas from one another surrounded by nine empty chairs.

“It’s weird,″ Mark Cummings said, “but it’s also good because you don’t know who’s got it.″

Social distancing may be the new normal during the coronavirus outbreak. But perhaps nowhere is it more vital than during a routine trip to the doctor.

Even before the pandemic, a trip to the doctor meant sitting in waiting rooms packed with patients side by side. Now, a routine visit comes with an added layer of anxiety.

Some doctors have removed chairs from their waiting rooms to create more space while others have locked their doors to allow patients in one at a time, said Dr. Eric Weiner, medical director for Medical Specialists of the Palm Beaches, which has more than 60 providers.

“Last week I was telling the physicians, ‘You can’t tell patients they’re in a safe environment if they walk into a waiting room and they see chairs stacked next to each other.’ Anyone with half a brain will walk out,″ he said.

A “Coronavirus Alert” sign at the entrance to Weiner’s office on Lake Worth Road reads “If you have fever or cough or shortness of breath, Do Not Enter This Office.”

A greater concern to many patients, Weiner said, is the prospect of going to a commercial lab, such as LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics, to have blood drawn. Even before the pandemic, waiting rooms for commercial labs were often crowded.

“We need lab work but our patients are saying ‘but I don’t want to go to Quest or LabCorp because it’s a nightmare.’ They are afraid,″ Weiner said.

Because of those concerns, Weiner said his staff called Quest Diagnostics earlier this week to ask if any changes were being made to seating arrangements in their waiting rooms.

“And they said ’We are not making any changes,‴ Weiner said. “But I have patients saying they’re afraid they’ll be crammed in like sardines.″

A recent visit to a Lab Corp office on Forest Hill Boulevard and to Quest Diagnostics offices in Jupiter and Palm Springs on Wednesday found clean waiting rooms that were mostly empty.

“It was safe,″ Yani Liriano said after giving a blood sample at the Quest office on Congress Avenue in Palm Springs. Liriano wore a protective face mask and gloves.

The websites for LabCorp and Quest have coronavirus notices that only say the labs do not test for the virus, meaning patients can’t go there to be swabbed.

Weiner said he was disappointed the websites don’t offer assurances or crisis-related advice for customers about social distancing or safety in the labs’ waiting rooms.

“So now I’ve got two choices,″ Weiner said. “Either I tell my patients for the next three months I’m not ordering lab work or I have to be prepared to have patients come into my office and try to do blood work on them and now I’m exposing my staff to risk.″

Next door to Vitulli’s office in Jupiter, five people sat apart from each other in the waiting room at Quest Diagnostics.

“I felt safe,″ said Yamel Reyes of Jupiter. “The other day I had an appointment with my gynecologist. She’s friendly and usually takes her time and chats, but this time she was quicker.″


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