And harmed innocents along the way.
Mechanical ventilators have long been considered a last resort solution for treating patients with respiratory illness. The exact percentage varies, but the studies are unanimous in concluding that the vast majority of people who are put on a mechanical ventilator never make it off of one. In treating respiratory ailments, the highly invasive, high-risk maneuver that is mechanical ventilation is usually prefaced by less invasive measures, such as positive airway pressure machines like CPAP or BiPAP devices, or simple oxygen delivering nose prongs. But when COVID-19 hit, the long established scientific guidance on proper patient care was tossed out the window, along with other established norms, in the face of this much-hyped novel virus.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit full swing, this learned and phased approach to ventilator use was nowhere to be seen. Doctors in Italy, Spain, and New York City in particular were rushing to mechanical ventilation early and often, thanks in part to a fear-based transmission threat and an “expert consensus” that originated in China & was broadcast far and wide by the World Health Organization (WHO).
In early March, when COVID-19 was ravaging western Europe and sounding alarm bells in the United States, the WHO released COVID-19 provider guidance documents to healthcare workers. Citing experience “based on current knowledge of the situation in China,” the WHO recommended mechanical ventilators as an early intervention for treating COVID-19 patients. The guidance recommended escalating quickly, if not immediately, to mechanical ventilation. In doing so, they cited the guidance being presented by Chinese medical journals, which published papers in January and February claiming that “Chinese expert consensus” called for “invasive mechanical ventilation” as the “first choice” for people with moderate to severe respiratory distress.