Without a vaccine, the only treatment for COVID-19 is support therapy, and respiratory therapists are the ones delivering the majority of this support.
The three medical professionals who provide this support therapy are doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists.
COVID-19 can create acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) which is when the lungs harden and can no longer do their job and this requires patients to go on ventilators so that they can receive oxygen.
Patients who go on a ventilator require a respiratory therapist to insert the breathing tube. The breathing tube has to go down the trachea instead of the esophagus and respiratory therapists are the ones specialized to know how to do that.
Ventilators are complex machines with complicated control panels. In an interview with NPR, Tom Barnes of Northeastern University compared it to that of a small aircraft.
Barnes also expressed concern with some reports of high requests for ventilators and splitting ventilators so that one machine serves more than one patient.
With the complexity of this machine, hospitals should look past the lack of ventilators which can be produced in a matter of weeks and examine the number of respiratory therapists they have.
According to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), there are 155,000 respiratory therapists in the country. The Bureau of Labor states that the average salary is $60,000 and that it takes two to five years of training to gain certification.
Comparatively, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), there are about the same number of doctors who are general practitioners or practice emergency medicine. Including pediatricians and lung specialists, there are an additional 64,000 doctors in the country.
This kind of therapist rarely makes headlines or gets much recognition, but respiratory therapists are the ones who monitor those on ventilators.
As a respiratory disease, COVID-19 attacks the lungs and therefore this is the primary concern for medical professionals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the majority of cases will not need hospitalization, but for those who do, respiratory therapists are vital for their care.