CONCORD, N.C. — Part-time late model racer Patrick Staropoli doesn’t have a front row seat for the COVID-19 pandemic, but he knows a lot of people who do.
The 30-year-old works at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Fla., where he is an ophthalmology resident. While he doesn’t work directly with those suffering from COVID-19, he knows and has communicated with numerous doctors, nurses and others in the medical field who are working on the front lines against the virus.
“I’m not exactly on the front lines, but a lot of my friends who I went to medical school with are working in the ERs and the ICUs and they’re seeing all these patients come in firsthand,” Staropoli said. “I think it’s a really serious situation. All you have to do is look at Italy and see what’s happening over there. They’ve run out of ICU beds. They’ve run out of ventilators. Patients who should be on life support are being treated in the hallway.
“That’s something that we definitely need to avoid having happen here in America,” Staropoli continued. “A lot has been said on the news too about the shortage of masks and gowns and things that the healthcare workers need. It’s important not only for preventing your doctor from getting sick, but for preventing them from catching the virus and spreading it to other patients who may have immune system problems and things like that. That puts them at higher risk for having a bad result with this virus.”
Staropoli says the biggest problem isn’t so much the virus itself, it’s how quickly the virus is spreading, and the overload of patients doctors and hospitals are having to treat.
“That’s why everyone who can get in front of a microphone is preaching to everyone to keep your distance, stay at home,” Staropoli said. “That’s really just to slow down the amount of cases so that everyone who’s working really hard out there can take care of these patients.”
Staropoli noted that his office is only accepting patients who are suffering from traumas or emergencies. He said that won’t change until the pandemic subsides and things return to normal.
“We’re taking it absolutely as serious as possible,” Staropoli said. “I think all you have to do is turn on the news and they have plenty of people on the beach doing spring break and stuff like who may not be taking it as seriously as they should, but we just want to get the positive message out there.
“Even being an eye doctor, we only see patients now with eye emergencies or traumas,” Staropoli continued. “Anyone who screens positive for symptoms of coronavirus or has some kind of history that puts them at risk for that, we try to get them over to the main hospital to get checked out. Really just by eliminating all the elective procedures we’re trying to decrease the spread ourselves and also save some of that protective equipment, which I think is going to be really important down the line for everybody to have. It’s a coordinated effort with everyone.”
On the racing side of things, Staropoli doesn’t get to race as often as he would like. His work life keeps him very busy even without the ongoing pandemic, but the cancellation and postponement of events has caused him to miss a few races he had planned on running.
“Just like anyone else in racing that you talk to, it’s obviously put a halt to any of the racing we’re doing right now,” Staropoli said. “There was kind of a good string of races coming up in Florida. My car, which I don’t get to race very often, we had it ready to go for that $10,000-to-win Triple Crown race at Showtime.”
In addition, Staropoli had additional races scheduled behind the wheel of the No. 64 late model that he races for Jim McCoy. Those races, much like the Triple Crown race at Showtime, are unlikely to happen anytime soon.
“Really just trying to get our season started here,” Staropoli said. We got all of our ducks in a row and have both cars ready, but now we’re kind of just itching to go whenever this stuff starts to blow over and we can get back to racing.”
Staropoli knows there will be no racing until the United States gets past the COVID-19 pandemic. To do that, Staropoli is urging racers, race fans and everyone across the country to stay vigilant to prevent the continued spread of the virus.
“I think if you just look at history, there’s obviously been pandemics in the past and science and medicine has made some tremendous leaps since then,” Staropoli said. “While we’re doing some things that they’ve never done before, which is everyone staying at home and closing down all these restaurants and things like that, we also have people working on vaccines and medications and research and on these therapeutic strategies. Nowadays, it happens so much more rapidly than it did in the past.
“So I have no doubt that science is going to come up with an answer for this,” Staropoli continued. “We just need to slow things down as much as possible in the meantime for us to figure it out quicker. If you look at places where the virus originated, we get reports that there has been a decrease in cases and things are getting back to normal. So it’s basically a tidal wave coming at us and we just need to make it as small of a wave as possible and we’ll get through to the other side.”