Nevada County Army reservist serves as a physician assistant in New York City |

Nevada County Army reservist serves as a physician assistant in New York City

Victoria Penate
Staff Writer

Nevada City resident Alex Merkle got the call on Friday, April 3, that he was needed in New York City.

A physician assistant and officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, Merkle organized his travel arrangements that weekend, and was on his way by the following Monday.

Now at the Javits Center Medical Station in New York City, Merkle is aiding in the city’s medical response to COVID-19.

“There was some public information that there was additional demand for medical providers and services beyond what the local community in New York had,” said Merkle.

He explained that, in order to aid the city’s overwhelmed medical system, the federal government has sub-contracted members of the military — both active duty and reserves — who could provide medical services.

Merkle described arriving to a rapidly worsening situation as he began work on April 10.

“The day before, I think we had 40 patients at Javits. The day I got there, we had 400.”

He found out Saturday that they had seen 1,000 patients.

The severity of the COVID-19 outbreak there presented a stark contrast to what he had seen of the crisis back home.

“The most eye-opening thing is just the dramatic difference here from what I was seeing in Nevada County,” he said. “Back in California, there were a lot of great preparations put into place, and a lot of really smart, organized folks — but, we just weren’t really seeing any COVID folks on any regular basis.”

The Javits Center — which under normal circumstances operates as a convention center — is currently the site of four emergency hospitals, built by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as called for by President Donald Trump last month.

Merkle said that, while it naturally presents a challenge to prepare for so many patients in a short period of time, the medical center has quickly achieved an advanced level of operation.

He described his current workplace as a “functional, effective intensive care unit,” in which many patients are being treated with ventilators and medical personnel have access to necessary equipment.

Merkle said that, in his current work, he has seen the toll that COVID-19 has had on New York, both through treating patients with severe cases of the disease and finding that, even among those who recover, most have lost a friend or family member to it.

“It’s such a tragedy, and it’s such a privilege to be able to help,” said Merkle.

Regarding what people can do in response to this crisis, he said, “Really, the only way for us to get through this so far is through a community-led effort. Shelter in place had a dramatic impact on this.

“I’m just looking forward to having this resolved, hopefully quickly, and coming back to our community,” said Merkle.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union.

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