COVID-19 cases are increasing by the thousands every day, and the healthcare workforce is starting to feel the effects.
10 days ago I wrote about my experience on the front lines and things have really escalated since then. My facility tests countless rule out patients every day. Last I knew we have at least seven confirmed cases in our ICU, in addition to the less sick, COVID positive patients on the med-surg floors. This number is increasing every day. The nurses in my unit seem subdued, and dare I say quiet. I think this is a reflection of the generalized anxiety and uncertainty that is penetrating our practice.
Firstly, the patient I was exposed to came back negative- yay! BUT, it’s hard not to feel like we are exposing ourselves every day, especially with the PPE crisis.
Many facilities have asked bedside staff to wear surgical masks until the patient is confirmed positive (at which point we would change to an N-95 if available), and that feels completely backwards to A LOT of nurses. We are keeping logs of anyone who enters a rule out or confirmed positive room in order to make sure they will be paid if they are quarantined due to coronavirus symptoms from a workplace exposure.
We have also all but eliminated visitors to my facility. Laboring moms and NICU babies are allowed one visitor, but other patients are not allowed to have any visitors at all, unless someone is actively dying.
I personally know three nurses (all in different states) that have been tested and confirmed positive for COVID-19. I know of at least 2 more who are currently out on quarantine and are waiting to be told if they should be tested. All of these nurses are amazing providers, and all of them are shocked and slightly scared of their results.
A close friend of mine who is a former ICU RN, and now part of administration at a Northern California hospital, is recovering from COVID-19 with his husband. They had no sick contacts and self-isolated far before it was recommended (they saw what was happening and decided to get ahead of the game).
This is a quote from him about his recovery from coronavirus:
“..Honestly, the worst part about this whole infection was the unknown…We just hoped everyday that the positive strides we were making did not give way to some terrible pneumonia that left us intubated in the ICU. This was really scary, but knowing what this virus does to you makes me feel horrified for those unfortunate individuals that cannot win this battle..”
The PPE Emergency and Nursing
The PPE crisis is well known to the nation by now. I’ve heard various accounts of what hospitals are doing to combat the problem, including re sterilization of masks, hiding N-95 masks and chastising those who are wearing them, and reaching out to private organizations to help with supply. There is no right or wrong answer (Other than it obviously being wrong to hide the masks and punish nurses who are trying to protect themselves). I truly believe that hospital administrations are doing the best they can with they information that they receive from the CDC and our government. Sadly, we were unprepared from the start, and it’s going to take a monumental effort to catch up with the rapidly increasing equipment needs.
Travel nurses would be wise to ask about PPE availability and future plans for supply when they are interviewing for crisis contracts. There will not be a perfect answer, but travel nurses need to know what they are walking into and be prepared to advocate for themselves and their safety.
I have had neighbors and friends offer to make masks, but unfortunately cloth masks are not enough protection. We’ve discussed putting HEPA filter in pockets at the front of the homemade masks, but I am not sure this is efficient, either. We need private companies to focus on manufacturing PPE, and healthcare workers are looking to the public to donate any gear that they have been hoarding. Again- if there are no healthcare workers to care for these patients, mortality rates will increase and many more people will die.
Travel Nurses and COVID-19
The number of crisis job postings is nearly doubling every day. The pay rates are off the charts (often more than DOUBLE the normal rates), and hospitals are desperate for nurses. ED and ICU contracts are in abundance, but Med-Surg and Telemetry nurses are also in demand. As travel nurses, we have the unique opportunity to step up and help out our country. This is a public health matter and it’s our time to shine.
I wish it hadn’t taken this level of illness for people to realize the importance of nurses and other healthcare staff, but we have arrived.
If you are currently available and looking for a contract, or if your current contract ends soon, there is an enormous amount of high paying jobs available, with more being added every day. It’s a GREAT time to be a travel nurse if you are willing to help out those states that are hardest hit.
If you have to travel between states that are being locked down, be sure to ask your agency for a letter of passage in case you are stopped by the police or National Guard. Additionally, obtain a letter from your facility if you are going to work in a city that has a ‘shelter in-place’ order.
What Happens Next for Nurses and COVID-19?
We stand together and rise to this challenge. We need to take care of each other and help reduce the huge amount of stress surrounding this situation.
I don’t think anyone has this answer. Not the CDC, not our government, not hospital administration, and certainly not bedside staff. I appreciate my managers and administration for trying to be as transparent as possible, and I understand that they are dealing with this problem at a different level than bedside nurses. I can honestly say though, that I feel they are advocating for nurses to the best of their abilities, and are doing their best with the information they receive that is constantly changing. Travel nurses need to continue to speak up and ask questions, and seek the support of their administration and infectious disease staff for clarification on PPE and coronavirus issues.
We know our numbers have exponentially increased in the US over the last 10 days. Stay-in place orders are being issued in multiple states. Encourage your family and friends to stay inside and stop the spread.
Nurses have the ability to make major impacts on the containment and treatment of this disease. Stay safe, advocate for PPE, and continue to give the best care possible!