TRURO — Thomas Garran has left his apartment complex in Beijing only three times in the last two months. Those times he did leave, he had his temperature taken upon returning — part of the country’s stringent, and apparently effective, protocols designed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Garran, a researcher and herbalist at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing, is originally from Truro and is a 1987 Nauset High graduate. Garran recently earned a Ph.D. in Chinese medical pharmacology in Beijing, where he has lived full-time since 2007.
Although Garran is researching and translating Chinese herbal medical treatments to be used specifically for the coronavirus, the virus is not actually being treated with herbs in that country. “I have no ability to see patients here,” Garran said.
What Garran has seen is the impact of China’s fever clinics.
He said that if he had had a fever upon returning to his apartment, he would likely have been brought to one. Fever clinics were set up in every city across China and used to isolate those infected with the virus, treating manageable symptoms without bringing the disease into hospitals unless specialized care was absolutely necessary.
The tents that have been set up at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis may look alarming, but health care providers believe they are a good idea. “These may not be called ‘fever clinics,’ ” said Dr. Michael Shear, who has worked as an emergency-room physician for over 40 years, both abroad and in the Boston area, “but it is going to help to have separate sites where triage can happen outside the stream of hospital care.”
Cape Cod Healthcare has said it is unable to answer specific questions about its hospitals’ capacity for acute cases at this time, but according to the nonprofit watchdog organization Leapfrog Group the two hospitals combined have 34 intensive care unit beds.
The fever clinics were important in reducing mortality in China, Garran said, because without them the number of sick patients would have by far outnumbered available hospital beds.
“It was a very smart thing because it gave a buffer to the hospitals,” he said.
On March 19, China reported no new cases of the virus in Hubei, the original epicenter of the outbreak, and that day had zero locally transmitted cases across mainland China for the first time in the last eight weeks, according to the L.A. Times.
Garran says he’s seen some people walking outside without masks on in Beijing, which was not common in the last several months. He encourages everyone back home to take the virus seriously.
“It’s only going to get worse before it gets better,” he said.