COVID Life in the Prenatal Ultrasound Suite

It is crazy to think that we are approaching the end of the second year of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. If the pandemic were a child, it would be walking, talking, and soon entering the “terrible twos”. In fact, my son was born in late February 2020, so all he knows is the pandemic. To him, masks are normal. He has even started to ask to wear a mask because that’s what everyone else does—mom, dad, his daycare teachers, his grandparents, his cousins. Though once he has one on, he quickly realizes that he prefers life without a mask.

Don’t we all, Andy?

As with most people, work life since the pandemic has changed. As a maternal-fetal medicine fellow, I’ve dedicated my training to the care of pregnant people and their fetuses, and I find the most fulfillment in the ultrasound suite. As cases rose, rooms filled with family and friends waiting for the words on the screen, “It’s a girl!”, during an anatomic survey became rooms with only a masked pregnant person and a masked sonographer (and the unmasked fetus, of course). While one adult support person has always been allowed to accompany each patient at our institution, they were frequently absent, whether they were working from home, caring for other children who are not allowed at appointments, or trying to limit exposures. Sonologists that previously were in and out of ultrasound rooms, scanning and counseling patients, were reading exams and counseling remotely.

Despite all the changes, the work continued. In fact, the pandemic has reminded us all that prenatal ultrasound is a medical necessity. At the height of the pandemic, elective medical procedures were canceled across the country. But the prenatal sonographers and maternal-fetal medicine specialists donned their N95s and face shields, and the prenatal ultrasound suite continued operation. In fact, cases that would have previously been managed with twice weekly non-stress tests were managed with weekly biophysical profiles instead to minimize potential exposures for a patient. Even with a current maternal diagnosis of COVID, arrangements were made to continue weekly umbilical artery Doppler studies for cases of fetal growth restriction. Some scans just cannot be delayed for 2 weeks. Despite all the changes, our purpose was clearer than ever—to provide excellent care for our patients, maternal and fetal.

With the widespread distribution of the vaccine and the decrease in cases, work life has settled into a “new normal”. Children have returned to in-person school, and the support person has returned to the ultrasound suite. N95s have been replaced by more comfortable surgical masks. Counseling a patient and their partner is no longer accompanied by the same degree of fear of a COVID exposure. But life is still far from my expectation of normal. The smiles after receiving the good news that there is one healthy intrauterine pregnancy with a strong heartbeat are still hidden behind cloth, as is the discomfort of an amniocentesis and the anguish when informed of a lethal fetal diagnosis. The impact that the mask continues to make on my ability to connect with and care for my patients cannot be understated.

As we head into the “terrible twos”, I know the pandemic will continue on and there will continue to be ups and downs. Misinformation regarding vaccination still limits widespread acceptance, but as research continues to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of vaccination, I still hold on to the hope that one day I will again be able to sit in a room with a patient unmasked and take in the unspoken communication I’ve so missed. But in the meantime, I’ll take the “new normal” and make the best of it for myself, my family, my colleagues, and my patients.

Kathy Bligard, MD, MA, FACOG, is a loving mom and third-year maternal-fetal medicine fellow at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO.

Interested in learning more about patient care? Check out the following posts from the Scan:

POCUS in COVID-19—Clutch or Not So Much?

Health care workers see patients with undifferentiated symptoms day and night in emergency departments, hospitals, and outpatient clinics, so we are hard-pressed to identify symptoms that are NOT part of the constellation of symptoms seen with COVID-19. Practically speaking, any patient we encounter is likely to have one or more of the symptoms, which include incredibly common findings such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, myalgias, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and rash!

A Critical Question Exists: How Might Point-of-Care Ultrasound (POCUS) Be Best Utilized in This Pandemic?

While data is still being collected and definite answers may not be attainable, we seek to outline a few scenarios where POCUS may greatly aid every-day patient care.

No Test or Slow Test Scenario

While COVID-19 testing is more available than early in the pandemic, there are still communities in the U.S. and worldwide that lack access to testing or expeditious results. A prior post on AIUM’s The Scan, “My Sonography Experience With COVID-19”, ( by Yale Tung Chen, MD, PhD, details common POCUS findings that may aid in diagnosing COVID-19 when tests or test results are not available.1

POCUS offers greater sensitivity for COVID-19 pneumonia than CXR and is safer (no ionizing radiation) and more cost-effective in comparison to CT imaging of the chest.2

Is This Patient’s Shortness of Breath Due to COVID-19 Pneumonia?

The differential diagnosis of a patient with undifferentiated shortness of breath can be broad. It includes not just COVID-19 pneumonia, but also pulmonary embolism, heart failure, pericarditis, pericardial effusion/tamponade, pneumothorax, and many more.

POCUS can reliably exclude decreased left ventricular ejection fraction, pericardial effusion, and pneumothorax, often rapidly shortening the differential. And POCUS findings of right heart strain may help direct clinicians toward further testing for pulmonary embolism (PE) or the use of thrombolytics in patients in extremis. Detection of a deep venous thrombosis (DVT) may serve as a proxy for diagnosing PE in a patient with shortness of breath or chest pain with a high probability of PE.

As has long been recognized but is reinforced in the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to detect these pathologies at the bedside makes POCUS an invaluable tool for patients who are too critically ill to be transported for further diagnostic studies.

POCUS Takes One for the Team, Limiting Healthcare Worker Exposure

Limiting the number of people involved in the hands-on care of a patient with COVID-19 is an important principle in reducing healthcare worker (HCW) exposure.

In another previous post on The Scan, “How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Changed Your Practice”, Margarita V. Revzin, MD, MS, detailed the time-intensive protocols that are in place to protect both the patients receiving and the HCWs performing ultrasound exams in the radiology department (

The ability of POCUS to answer binary clinical questions may help limit the exposure of HCWs who are not part of the primary team for the infected patients. In POCUS, the ultrasound exam is performed by a provider responsible for the comprehensive care of the patient—in essence, one of the HCWs who is primarily caring for the patient. When POCUS is able to definitively answer the clinical question at the bedside, additional imaging studies may be unnecessary, thus reducing the number of consulting providers exposed to a patient with COVID-19.

POCUS as the Great Prognosticator

The lung ultrasound findings of COVID-19 pneumonia precede findings on physical exam and x-ray imaging. Therefore, ultrasound could be used as a screening tool and additional data point in triaging patients and determining if they can be treated as an outpatient or admitted to the hospital.

Studies have suggested that infero-posterior lung POCUS findings are most sensitive for the diagnosis of COVID-19 pneumonia but that anterior lung findings best predict the need for non-invasive ventilation support while hospitalized.3

In addition, calculation of a lung ultrasound score (LUS) may help quantify severity of disease, with higher LUS predicting invasive ventilatory support need, ARDS, and death.4

The Future

POCUS is unique. It is the imaging modality that most easily incorporates into telehealth via remote guidance. As the role of POCUS in diagnosis, monitoring, and prognostication in pulmonary disease is better defined, it may play a role in determining care plans for patients seeking care via telehealth while minimizing COVID-19 exposure for both HCWs and patients.5,6

Furthermore, combining handheld ultrasound devices with novel artificial intelligence algorithms may allow for the automation of diagnosis and monitoring as described in a prior blog post by Alper Yilmaz, PhD, “Using AI and Ultrasound to Diagnose COVID-19 Faster” (


  1. Soldati G, Smargiassi A, Inchingolo R, et al. Proposal for international standardization of the use of lung ultrasound for patients with COVID-19: a simple, quantitative, reproducible method. J Ultrasound Med. 2020 Jul;39(7):1413-1419. doi: 10.1002/jum.15285. Epub 2020 Apr 13. PMID: 32227492; PMCID: PMC7228287.
  2. Peng QY, Wang XT, Zhang LN; Chinese Critical Care Ultrasound Study Group (CCUSG). Findings of lung ultrasonography of novel corona virus pneumonia during the 2019-2020 epidemic. Intensive Care Med. 2020 May;46(5):849-850. doi: 10.1007/s00134-020-05996-6. Epub 2020 Mar 12. PMID: 32166346; PMCID: PMC7080149.
  3. Castelao J, Graziani D, Soriano JB, Izquierdo JL. Findings and prognostic value of lung ultrasound in COVID-19 pneumonia. J Ultrasound Med. 2020 Sep 16. doi: 10.1002/jum.15508. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32936491.
  4. Ji L, Cao C, Gao Y, et al. Prognostic value of bedside lung ultrasound score in patients with COVID-19. Crit Care. 2020 Dec 22;24(1):700. doi: 10.1186/s13054-020-03416-1. PMID: 33353548; PMCID: PMC7754180.
  5. Kirkpatrick AW, McKee JL, Volpicelli G, Ma IWY. The potential for remotely mentored patient-performed home self-monitoring for new onset alveolar-interstitial lung disease. Telemed J E Health. 2020 Oct;26(10):1304-1307. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2020.0078. Epub 2020 Jul 10. PMID: 32654656.
  6. Kirkpatrick AW, McKee JL. Re: “Proposal for International Standardization of the Use of Lung Ultrasound for Patients With COVID-19: A Simple, Quantitative, Reproducible Method”-Could Telementoring of Lung Ultrasound Reduce Health Care Provider Risks, Especially for Paucisymptomatic Home-Isolating Patients? J Ultrasound Med. 2021 Jan;40(1):211-212. doi: 10.1002/jum.15390. Epub 2020 Jul 8. PMID: 32639037; PMCID: PMC7362148.

Jennifer Carnell, Tobias Kummer, and Arun Nagdev are the leaders (2020–2022) of the AIUM Point-of-Care Ultrasound Community. Jennifer Carnell is the Secretary, Tobias Kummer is the Vice-Chair, and Arun Nagdev Arun is the Chair.

Interested in learning more about POCUS? Check out the following posts from the Scan:

The Invisible Front Line

2020’s trials seem to have come on like a freight train; full steam ahead with no signs of stopping. Australia was still burning when we first heard stories of a novel virus with pandemic potential in Wuhan, China. Numbers and other details seemed to change daily. Weeks went by as we watched world news intently, taking note of the infection rate and death toll, all the while steeling ourselves for a possible outbreak at home. As much as we tried to go about our daily lives, Wuhan and the virus was never too far from our minds. Was this virus airborne? There were still so many unanswered questions, but one thing was certain; COVID-19 was spreading like wildfire and it was only a matter of time now before we would be on our own front line.Huang

Sonographers and other medical professionals soon began deployment into COVID wards in our own hospitals: areas that had been sealed off and outfitted as negative pressure cohort units to treat the infected patients. Then the deluge of daily updates and dizzying policy changes began as we tried to keep up with CDC guidelines. Rumors surfaced of limited PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies. Only doctors and nurses needed n95s? Regular procedure masks were fine for everyone else? Surely that was incorrect. Surely they knew what kind of prolonged contact sonographers have with our patients? X-ray was making contact with every patient under investigation (PUI). CT was scanning countless chests. Worries intensified as we all tried to navigate this new reality.

I’ll never forget my first assignment in the cohort. Only one other sonographer in my department had gone into the cohort at that time. He relayed seeing 3 morgue carts lining a hallway on his first trip inside. I thought about that often in the days that followed and I knew my turn was coming. How would I handle that? Some of our respiratory therapy (RT) and interventional radiology (IR) colleagues had tested positive by this time. I thought about my little boy. I saw news coverage of doctors and nurses who were self-quarantining after their shifts to decrease the potential spread to their families. I didn’t have that option as a single mother.

Finally, it came: my first COVID+ request. I told myself it would be fine. I just needed to be brave, be safe, and stay alert. I’ve never been to battle but having the media images in my mind and knowing the death toll numbers, I imagined this is what it might feel like on some small level. I thought about the PPE shortage and the rumors that we wouldn’t have access to n95s. I steeled my nerves and walked one foot in front of the other with Apollo (my LOGIQ E10). I arrived outside the cohort and was immediately greeted by the plastic sheeting that sealed off the unit. I found an anteroom with shelves overflowing with supplies. A lovely volunteer helped outfit me with everything I needed: a fresh n95, a surgical mask to go on top, a contact gown, shoe covers, eye protection, and a scrub hat. We exchanged nervous chatter for a moment as she gave me a once over to make sure I was ready. She opened the door and I exhaled as I walked inside.

As I made my way to my first patient, I noticed things were definitely different. Physicians and nurses donned full respirator masks, patient information was written on the room windows so staff could see information such as code status from the hallway, and iv poles with extra tubing sat outside of patient rooms so nurses could adjust pumps without going inside. I also learned that doctors were either doing virtual or modified rounds with one MD per team going into the patient’s room while the rest stayed outside. One came in during my 30-minute exam. As I stood hip-to-hip with my patient, he stood at the foot of the bed, asked the patient a few questions, and was gone in about 2 minutes. It struck me how much extra caution was being taken for doctors and nurses to limit their exposure times.

Some other things in the cohort looked like business as usual. I saw radiographers and cardiac sonographers going about their usual work. I saw food service delivering meals. I saw housekeeping working to stay on top of the mountains of doffed contact gowns and other garbage. Everyone was working individually on this front line for a common goal: our patients. Yet, as I arrived home that day and turned on the news, I was once again told by the media that nurses and doctors are the essential workers in this pandemic. While I absolutely believe nurses and doctors deserve every ounce of recognition they receive, I sometimes think people forget that it takes a team to deliver excellent patient care. I was fortunate enough to be able to share my experiences with Alison Bowen of the Chicago Tribune recently in the hopes of illuminating just some of what we do in a day as Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

My first patient had a seizure during my exam that day. As I approached my second patient’s room to perform a liver Doppler, a doctor sitting outside of the room informed me the patient had just passed away. My third patient was about to receive a Foley catheter and was extremely nervous. Her nurse asked me to help assist before I started my ultrasound. The patient was still very nervous so I went to the hallway to find extra help. I asked an employee there if she wouldn’t mind coming in and holding the patient’s hand. She looked behind herself and then back at me before stating, “I’m just EVS [environmental services] but I’m happy to help if it’s OK.” She donned a gown and jumped right in.


Angela Huang, BS, RDMS (AB,OB/GYN,PS), RVT, is a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer for a large research hospital in Chicago. She attended DePaul University for undergraduate studies where she majored in Biology. Huang went on to Sonography school at El Centro College in Dallas, Texas. Now, she has a 10-year-old son who keeps her laughing and they love to travel and explore.

Interested in learning more about COVID-19? Check out the following posts from the Scan:

Thank you

Thank you. 

Thank you to all of the medical professionals who are working tirelessly to care for the massive influx in patients resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you for risking your own health to care for others. Thank you for taking the time away from your families. 

Thank you to the many medical professionals who have answered calls to action. 

Thank you to all of the truckers and production and store workers who are ensuring that everyone can still get the supplies and services they need.

Thank you to everyone who is remaining safe at home, despite going stir-crazy. 

Thank you to all of the parents who suddenly had to become home-school teachers. 

Thank you to everyone who has transitioned to working from home each day.


Interested in reading about topics that could be of interest during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out the following posts from the Scan:


Cynthia Owens is the Content Specialist at the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM).