Dr. Lora Shahine remembers the moment when everything changed. It was 7 a.m. on March 17. The COVID-19 crisis was unfolding across the country and, in response, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) had just issued a two page guideline recommending that clinics stop all fertility treatment and testing.
They made some exceptions, as in the case of emergency fertility preservation before cancer treatment. But for most fertility patients, the process of building their family was suddenly put on hold.
Shahine is a reproductive endocrinologist at Pacific Northwest Fertility in Seattle. She says that many of her patients were feeling like they're in a race against time, and so this guideline was particularly hard because, at the time it was issued, it had no end date.
“Not knowing, well, is this a pause for a month? Is this a pause for six months? Is the pause for a year until we get a vaccine?" she said. "And feeling like that lost time was going to be the loss of the ability to build the family that they have been waiting for.”
Then, on April 24, some relief. The ASRM issued new recommendations on how to safely start care. Now, as society gradually begins to open back up, fertility clinics are, too. The ASRM updated the guidelines with recommendations on how clinics can do their work safely. There will be telehealth visits, temperature checks, physical distancing, and masks for all.
Dr. Angela Thyer is with Seattle Reproductive Medicine, a fertility clinic with multiple offices around the region. She says she’s ready for this new phase.
"There are so many people who are excited and happy to get started with fertility treatment and building their family,” she said. “And so we are just so glad we feel like we're in a good position to do that now.”
Last week, Thyer says, Seattle Reproductive Medicine had their first Zoom open house for potential patients. Twenty-nine families showed up.