News

What Does COVID-19 Care Look Like For the Average American?

hospitalized covid-19 patient pulse oximeter

Tempura / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Most Americans will not receive the medications President Trump received if they contract COVID-19.
  • Experimental drugs, like Regeneron's antibody cocktail, are only available to participants of clinical trials. The President was granted an exception with the FDA's compassionate use request.
  • Even without VIP treatment, improvements in hospital care for COVID-19 over the last few months mean you will probably receive the care you need if you get sick.
  • Some insurance companies are waving cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

In light of the recent COVID-19 hospitalizations of President Trump and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, many Americans are wondering how their care at the hospital—if they contracted COVID-19—would compare with the treatment of high profile patients. Would they be admitted to the hospital at all?

The answer is that the care would be far from the same: no helicopter, no conference room, possibly no steroids or monoclonal antibodies. But experts say you'll likely get what you need to recover from the virus, even without the VIP treatment.

What to Expect if You Are Not Admitted to the Hospital

If you have COVID-19 symptoms but are turned away from an ER or not admitted for a hospital stay, expect guidance to monitor your breathing, says Aaron E. Glatt, MD, FACP, FIDSA, FSHEA, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, New York. He says you should monitor your breathing regardless of whether or not you tested positive for COVID-19.

"Check in with your doctor or 911 if there is any change [in your breathing]," Glatt tells Verywell. "You might not need treatment or admission to the hospital today, but that won’t necessarily be the same tomorrow, and you don’t want to wait until your symptoms are extreme."

If you are using a pulse oximeter, know that normal oxygen saturation levels range between 95% and 100%.

Glenn Wortmann, MD, section director of infectious diseases at Medstar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC, says your doctor may suggest you get your own pulse oximeter, a small device that clips to your finger and monitors your oxygen saturation. Oxygen saturation is a measure of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.

“If your oxygen saturation levels are below 95, call the doctor," Wortmann tells Verywell. "Below 90, call 911."

What to Expect if You Are Admitted To the Hospital

Glatt says hospitals have "gotten much better at treatment since last April.” For example, based on research conducted since last winter, physicians now know that although prone (face-down) position is helpful to improve oxygenation in ventilated patients, anyone in this position needs to be monitored for nerve damage.

Glatt says hospital staff are also looking more closely at how to deal with complications such as blood clots in COVID-19 patients, and administering blood thinners when appropriate.

Medications

President Trump received the steroid dexamethasone at the hospital. Glatt says that steroids have been shown to be effective for patients with severe disease, and that they have improved morbidity (severe illness) and mortality in that subgroup only.

While President Trump does not appear to have had a severe case of COVID-19, usually, only the sickest patients would receive steroids because of their serious potential side effects, including:

  • blood sugar increases
  • increased risk of infection
  • mood swings

If you haven't been prescribed a steroid, don't seek one out. "Don’t borrow a friend’s steroids, or take any prednisone you might have left over from a previous asthma attack,” Glatt says. 

President Trump also received the drug remdesivir early in his hospital stay. Wortmann says the drug has been shown to help patients with mild to moderate disease leave the hospital quicker but hasn’t been as beneficial for patients with more severe disease.

Now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved remdesivir for use in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, regardless of the severity of their disease, it's quite possible this could become a readily-available medication if you're admitted to the hospital.

Both President Trump and Gov. Christie received experimental antibodies during their hospital stays, though there is not yet proof they work.

“Synthetic antibodies are being evaluated in several clinical trials,” Glatt says. And unless participating in a clinical trial, the average person is extremely unlikely to receive them until they receive emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA.

Synthetic antibody manufacturers Regeneron and Eli Lilly have applied for EUA. President Trump received Regeneron's cocktail, REGN-COV2, thanks to an FDA "Compassionate Use Request" from his doctor, which allows a person to receive an experiment drug even if they are not part of a clinical trial.

"Even if you participate in a clinical trial, you might get a placebo rather than a drug, but since it’s not clear whether the drugs are effective yet, that doesn’t mean you’ll get inferior care," Glatt says.

Insurance Coverage

President Trump’s care was paid for by taxpayers, and we don’t know whether Gov. Christie had to pay toward his care in New Jersey, but many Americans will have to pay toward their care for COVID-19, Cheryl Fish-Parcham, director of access initiatives at health insurance advocacy group Families USA, tells Verywell.

The good news for some people with insurance, Fish-Parcham says, is that some insurers are waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and treatment. 

If you are uninsured and your primary diagnosis is COVID-19, your doctor or hospital may be able to bill for reimbursement under legislation passed earlier this year

If you lost health insurance during 2020, Fish-Parcham says you may qualify for coverage through the end of the year under a special enrollment period.

What This Means For You

Enrollment for health insurance for 2021 through the state and federal marketplaces begins November 1. If you have lost your job or are worried you can’t afford your employer’s coverage, you may find more affordable options at Healthcare.gov. Based on income, you may qualify for tax credits that will bring down the cost of coverage.

Sick Leave

You may also have sick leave benefits that let you take time to take care of yourself while dealing with the virus and still get paid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a new emergency paid sick leave benefit took effect in April as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and guarantees eligible workers up to 80 hours of paid leave for a health issue arising from COVID-19.

For now, FFCRA expires at the end of 2020. But it doesn’t cover employees at private businesses with 500 or more employees (who should receive paid sick leave through their employers). The act also excludes emergency responders and healthcare workers, though their employers may also cover sick leave. Self-employed individuals are not covered. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vold ML, Aasebø U, Wilsgaard T, Melbye H. Low oxygen saturation and mortality in an adult cohort: the Tromsø studyBMC Pulm Med. 2015;15:9. Published 2015 Feb 12. doi:10.1186/s12890-015-0003-5

  2. Malik GR, Wolfe AR, Soriano R, et al. Injury-prone: Peripheral nerve injuries associated with prone positioning for COVID-19-related acute respiratory distress syndromemedRxiv. 2020 July. doi:10.1101/2020.07.01.20144436

  3. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Approves First Treatment for COVID-19. October 22, 2020.