In March 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in New York City, Michelle and Michael McGovern began to experience COVID-19 symptoms. Michelle was seven months pregnant with twins and little was known about COVID-19, especially its effects upon babies and pregnant mothers.
"When I got that first positive COVID test result, it was terrifying,” says Michelle, who tested positive in April 2020 and again when she arrived to give birth, in early May 2020. “All those things that you do to prepare for a pregnancy and make sure that your babies come into the world safely—you don't anticipate a pandemic. Everything was so uncertain.”
But one certainty for the McGoverns was their plan for their twins to be born at Weill Cornell Medicine, where the family had already been receiving medical care. Weill Cornell Medicine had shown an impressive response during the pandemic, treating patients and studying the virus to provide recommendations to medical centers around the world, including ways to treat newborns and their COVID-positive mothers to ensure a healthy delivery. Weill Cornell Medicine was putting patients and families at the center of attention, even during a time of great distress.
“We were scared to go to the hospital, but once we were there, it was a smooth and safe process,” Mike adds. “Despite the stressful circumstances, everyone was still very warm and caring.”
Advancements in pediatric infectious diseases surrounding COVID-19 were being made quickly at Weill Cornell Medicine, including studies around transmission of the virus from mother to child. Dr. Christine Salvatore, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, was one of the first physicians in the nation to describe the risks for new mothers with COVID-19 and create recommendations for care based on groundbreaking findings.
With her newfound knowledge, Dr. Salvatore created the Newborn COVID Clinic, the first of its kind in the country, where nearly 700 COVID-positive pregnant women and their newborns—including the McGovern family—have been cared for since last spring.
Utilizing findings from studying the first COVID-positive women and their babies, protocols were quickly implemented such as mothers wearing masks while breastfeeding and frequent hand- and breast-washing, which made it safer for babies to remain in their mothers’ rooms, avoiding the trauma of separation.
The clinic continues to monitor the health of the baby after the family is discharged, through repeated COVID testing for the newborn at one and two weeks after birth, which also advances Weill Cornell Medicine’s research studies.
The McGoverns’ twins’ birth went smoothly and their girls are now healthy and thriving.