In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, hospitals were performing so many lung scans of infected patients that CT scanners were crashing. That’s according to an article based on an interview with a Wuhan radiologist that provides a chilling first-hand account of radiology’s role in what’s become the biggest public health crisis of the 21st century.
The interview was originally published in 2022 by the Chinese-language investigative website Caixin and was translated and published this month by U.S. Right to Know, a public health advocacy organization.
In a sign of the information’s sensitivity, the original publication on Caixin’s website has been deleted, but U.S. Right to Know obtained the document from the US State Department under the Freedom of Information Act.
Radiologists at a Wuhan hospital noticed how COVID cases began doubling every 3-4 days in early January 2020, the article states, with many patients showing signs of ground-glass opacities on CT lung scans – a telltale sign of COVID infection. But Chinese authorities suppressed news about the rapid spread of the virus, and by January 11 the official estimate was that there were only 41 COVID cases in the entire country.
In reality, COVID cases were growing rapidly. CT machines began crashing in the fourth week of January due to overheating, said the radiologist, who estimated the number of cases in Wuhan at 10,000 by January 21. Hospitals were forced to turn infected patients away, and many people were so sick they were unable to climb onto X-ray tables for exams. Other details included:
- Chinese regulatory authorities denied that human-to-human transmission of the SARS CoV-2 virus was occurring even as healthcare workers began falling ill
- Many workers at Chinese hospitals were discouraged from wearing masks in the pandemic’s early days to maintain the charade that human-to-human contact was not possible – and many ended up contracting the virus
- Radiologists and other physicians lived in fear of retaliation if they spoke up about the virus’ rapid spread
The article provides a stunning behind-the-scenes look at the early days of a pandemic that would go on to reshape the world in 2020. What’s more, it demonstrates the vital role of radiology as a front-line service that’s key to the early identification and treatment of disease – even in the face of bureaucratic barriers to delivering quality care.