Houston doctor says he's fighting 2 wars: COVID-19 and stupidity

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The chief medical officer of United Memorial Medical Center in Houston said he is frustrated as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Dr. Joseph Varon is among the medical professionals who are alarmed at the growing deaths from the virus. But he said people choosing not to listen to guidance on how to stop the spread of COVID-19 makes the fight harder.

"My motto has been, you know, at the present time, I'm pretty much fighting two wars: a war against COVID and a war against stupidity. And the problem is that the first one I have some hope about winning. But the second one is becoming more and more difficult to treat. Why do I say that? Because people are not listening. Whether it's backed up by science or just plain old common sense, people are not listening throughout the country," Varon said.

Varon is also a lung and critical care specialist. Inside UMMC, overwhelmed medical staff members fight to curb the wave of COVID-19 patients coming through the hospital's doors every day.

Varon oversees the hospital's unit dedicated to COVID-19 patients.

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He tends to an average of 40 people a day and is no stranger to mass casualty situations. Yet last week, he signed more death certificates in that week than at any point in his career.

"I have been in the middle of earthquakes, in the middle of bombings, in the middle of tsunamis. I've been involved in every possible catastrophe that you can imagine. And by far, this is the worst. And this is the worst because this is a continuous situation," Varon said. "And what is probably the most disappointing thing, the thing that annoys me the most, is that we keep on doing our best to save all these people, and then you get another batch of people that are doing exactly the opposite of what you are telling them not to do."

The virus is affecting Varon's staff, too.

UMMC nurse Christina Mathers, 43, tested positive for COVID-19 last week after she started to feel sick toward the end of her shift.

"That's the hardest thing to ever hear is that you're positive because in your mind, you're going where did I go wrong? What did I do wrong? Because this is what I wear. So it messes with you," said Mathers, referring to personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Mathers, who has been working every other day since April 29, said she is also frustrated and that people need to be more educated.

"All this fighting and all the screaming and all the, you know, finger pointing -- enough is enough. Whatever happened to just common humanity and decency?" she said. "People just need to stop and listen to us. We're not going to lie. Why would we lie?"

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Patients at UMMC are also sharing their experiences battling the coronavirus.

Efrain Guevara, who has spent 10 days in the hospital, said he doesn't know how he contracted COVID-19.

"I like my solitude and I don't like to be around people. I ride in my car. I'm a driver and I always wear a mask. Every time I touch something, I clean my hands with (sanitizer) gel. It's a surprise for me (how I got coronavirus)," he said.

A 67-year-old patient, Riley Harrison, said he was at work when he couldn't breathe.

"So the little wind that I had left, I made it home and my wife called 911. But if you got a death wish, catch COVID. If you got a death wish, play with COVID," Harrison said.

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