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Dr. Curt Beckwith: Finding Treatments for COVID-19

As an infectious disease specialist, Dr. Curt Beckwith ’88 had worked on finding treatments for devastating viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C virus. But when COVID-19 patients started arriving at Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., in March, Dr. Beckwith had never seen anything like it.

“This blew everything else out of the water. The scale was so much larger, and we didn’t know how it spread through the community.”

Figuring out the best treatment was daunting, especially in the early weeks. “We really had no idea at the time what would work and what wouldn’t work,” said Dr. Beckwith, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, which is affiliated with Miriam Hospital.

“We spent a lot of time looking at the data from China and Europe and trying to sort out what would be effective.”

Dr. Beckwith and his colleagues participated in a clinical trial for remdesivir at Miriam Hospital, one of many sites around the world sponsored by the manufacturer. The treatment now has FDA emergency use approval. “It’s not a cure or magic bullet, but it does show some potential benefit in terms of reducing the length of hospitalization for patients. It’s a good option, but there is still much to learn about that medication and other treatments.”

Not only does he worry about COVID-19 patients, but he and other health care workers also have the extra stress of keeping themselves and their families safe. “There has been a lot of anxiety among health care workers. You have to keep your nose to the grindstone and get through it.”

He works on what is called a “warm unit,” an intensive care unit for COVID-19 patients. He and other health care workers on the floor wear N95 masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE). “Even putting on PPE is 􏰅 labor-intensive because if you don’t put it on right, the risk of getting the virus goes up.”

Dr. Beckwith also worries about infecting his wife and daughters. When he comes home from work, he showers immediately and washes his clothes.

But from a professional standpoint, it’s been rewarding as he worked to find treatments to minimize the risks of the virus. “As a disease, it’s fascinating. The pace of research has been unprecedented in terms of treatments, vaccine development, and looking at risk factors and disparities. Who’s getting it? Who’s most affected in different communities? How does the virus mutate and change when someone is being treated for COVID-19?”

“It’s been very stressful and scary, but it’s also been an incredible professional opportunity as far as tackling the unknowns. It’s been a career-defining event for me.”