Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Hospitals are asking retired doctors and nurses to come back and help with operations as they prepare for a rush of severe coronavirus cases.

The bottom line: Retired clinicians likely won't be placed in intensive care units or coronavirus testing stations, because older adults are at higher risk of falling ill and dying from the virus. But they could help stabilize hospitals that will need as many hands on deck as possible over the coming months.

Where it stands: The Association of American Medical Colleges floated this idea last week with hospitals and federal agencies.

  • "The question is: How can we bring people up to speed and bring them in?" said Janis Orlowski, a physician and executive at the AAMC. "They will ... [likely] backfill in areas where it's not direct patient care."

What they're saying: Some retired clinicians are willing to take on other necessary care, while residents and other doctors funnel into coronavirus cases.

  • Mary Kiehl, a physician who retired last September from Washington University in St. Louis, recently messaged her department chair asking if they needed any extra help. She heard back within minutes.
  • "I was shocked at how fast the response was," she said.
  • Kiehl is finishing a self-quarantine after returning from a trip in Patagonia, but she plans to help her hospital with occupational health and supervising residents by the end of this month.

By the numbers: 41% of doctors are 55 or older, according to American Medical Association data provided to Axios, and 38% of nurses are 55 or older.

Go deeper

Jun 30, 2020 - Health

Axios-Ipsos poll: Fearing fireworks and flower girls

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Fourth of July celebrations and summer weddings are the latest triggers of American anxiety in this week's installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: Summer's arrival is coinciding with surges in new virus cases around the country. That's putting a damper on national pastimes as people reconcile how to protect their families while celebrating ritual and tradition.

Jun 30, 2020 - Health

CDC expert warns U.S. has "way too much virus" to contain outbreak

CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat speaks during a February White House briefing as CDC director Robert Redfield, Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump look on. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The novel coronavirus is spreading too widely and quickly to contain, CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat told The Journal of the American Medical Association Monday, warning she expects "this virus to continue to circulate."

Why it matters: Per Schuchat, "This is really the beginning, and what we hope is that we can take it seriously and slow the transmission." Her comments are in contrast to those of senior members of the Trump administration — notably Vice President Mike Pence, who said on Friday "we have made truly remarkable progress."

Biden calls on Trump to wear a mask, limit rallies amid coronavirus surge

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Laying out his plans to combat the coronavirus during a speech on Tuesday, Joe Biden stared into the camera, addressed President Trump and questioned his fitness to lead the nation: "America needs a president."

The state of play: The former vice president pleaded with Trump to wear a mask, institute a national plan for reopening the country and economy, and unite the American people amid the pandemic.