As cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, increase in the United States, the wealthy are investing in private EDs and home-delivered medical products to minimize contact with potentially infected patients, Alex Williams and Jonah Engel Bromwich report for the New York Times.
State of the virus, focused on the US
Reports of the new coronavirus first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China. As of Thursday morning, officials reported more than 127,800 cases of COVID-19 globally. Officials said as of Friday there had been at least 4,718 deaths linked to the virus, and all but 1,546 occurred in mainland China.
The number of newly reported cases in China has been slowing, but the number of newly reported COVID-19 cases has been surging in other countries.
For example, in the United States, state and federal officials as of Thursday morning reported at least 1,289 confirmed or presumed positive cases of COVID-19 and 37 deaths linked to the virus.
CDC as of Wednesday said at least 75 of the cases involved Americans who contracted the virus via human-to-human transmission in the United States.
Elite emergency rooms and private bunkers
As the virus picks up speed in the United States, patients and even doctors are trying to minimize contact with potentially infected patients by avoiding EDs.
For some people, avoiding doctors' offices could mean passing up medical care altogether, but the wealthy are turning to concierge medical services for their needs. The concierge services provide "round-the-clock access to doctors, expedited appointments with specialists," Williams and Bromwich write.
For instance, Ben Stein, medical director of Sollis Health, said interest in memberships have increased since news of the virus' spread to the United States last month. A family membership at Sollis costs about $8,000 a year. The membership includes access to facilities, which are basically "V.I.P. emergency rooms," located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and TriBeCa. Sollis also performs house calls in the Hamptons in the summer.
According to Stein, some clients have called to ensure they can access care if they become ill. For example, an unnamed actress, called about an upcoming trip to Japan where she was supposed to shoot a kissing scene, according to Stein. The actress said she wanted to ensure she'd be able to take advantage of her membership and avoid EDs if she returned to the United States with virus symptoms.
Meanwhile, other members are taking advantage of their V.I.P status to request home deliveries of antiviral medications, respiratory medications, like Albuterol and Sudafed, as well as antibiotics, even though there is no antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19, Stein said.
Stein said one Sollis member, an heiress in Southampton, N.Y., built her own medical isolation room, equipped with a negative pressure system to prevent circulation of pathogens. The isolated area includes a bedroom, kitchen, as well as supplies like IV hydration, medicine, gloves, masks, and oxygen, according to Stein.
$35 hand wash and $150 'mover bags'
In addition, to concierge medicine, wealthy people are also stocking up on medical products, but these aren't just ordinary supplies.
Although CDC does not advise the general public wear masks, the "urban air mask," made by Swedish company Airinum, is sold out until April. The mask, which costs between $69 and $99, includes five layers of filtration and an "ultrasmooth and skin-friendly finish." N95 face masks have also been selling out, according to Justin O'Connor, who works in the surgical department at C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries. O'Connor said his company frequently works with celebrities and wealthy customers but he's seen an increase in the number of people dropping names to move up on the 300-person waiting list.
While most people can get hand sanitizer from Target for a couple of dollars, wealthy people are dropping money on luxury brands. For instance, Williams and Bromwich reports a $35 "rinse-free hand wash" from European luxury brand Byredo is sold out. Olika, which sells hand sanitizer shaped like a baby chick for $14.62, is also receiving multiple orders per minute.
Others are purchasing preparedness kits startups like Judy. The company, which launched just over a month ago, sells $50 fanny pack survival kits and bigger $150 "mover bags," which include a biohazard bag, wet wipes, sanitizer, batteries, and a flash light. Both kits sold out as of last Monday.
But some wealthy people are avoiding contact with other humans altogether when they're flying by trading in their first-class airline tickets for private jets. Southern Jet, a charter jet company in Florida, reported an increase in requests for the flights that can cost about $20,000 for a trip between Florida and New York (Bromwich/Williams, New York Times, 3/6; New York Times, 3/12; Smith et al., New York Times, 3/12; CDC website, 3/11).