“14 days—no work, no outings. Please stay home.”
It is a conversation unfolding thousands of times daily across the US, as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic spreads. On the telephone, via video consultation, or—increasingly rare these days—during an actual office visit, a primary care physician tells a patient, “Your symptoms sound like COVID-19.”
And many patients—the 25-year-old man working to stock grocery shelves, the 50-year-old woman driving a city bus, the restaurant line-order cook preparing takeout—ask anxiously, incredulously, or tearfully: “Stay home from work? I can’t.” Or “No puedo.”
Although primary care faces many new pressures and challenges due to the pandemic, no real clinical tools are available to actually treat patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection in the outpatient setting. The most common COVID-19–related interaction many primary care physicians have during the pandemic is trying to persuade patients who feel lousy—but not gravely sick—to stay home from work and other activities for 2 weeks (or even 7-10 days after a positive test result because quarantine guidelines have shifted).
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Benjamin D. Sommers, MD, PhD Benjamin D. Sommers, MD, PhD, is Professor of Health Policy and Economics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Associate Professor of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He is a health economist and...