November 30, 2020

Nurses are pleading with Americans to take Covid-19 seriously

Daily Briefing

    With new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths surging—and many hospitals reaching capacity—some nurses are taking a public stand, pleading with Americans to take the epidemic seriously.

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    'We didn't go to nursing school to be martyrs'

    Lauren Sharp, a nurse who began taking care of Covid-19 patients at a Michigan-based hospital in March, said she believes many Americans aren't treating the novel coronavirus and Covid-19—the disease caused by the virus—with the seriousness they deserve.

    "Patients are very grateful for the care they get, but people only care about what happens to them. People are being selfish and they act like it's not real. I know so many people on social media that went to Halloween parties, that go out to eat constantly or have these large social gatherings, and then one of them gets sick, and then they expect people to take care of them," Sharp said.

    And that can make it difficult for nurses caring for such patients, Sharp said. "It's just that expectation. How do nurses meet that expectation when we are struggling with the community not wanting to help us?" Sharp has since moved to a part-time job at a pediatric ICU at her hospital, in an effort to prioritize her mental health, but she also works conducting coronavirus tests for athletes at Michigan State University.

    "I have to go in there and sacrifice my health. Are nurses supposed to do that? We didn't go to nursing school to be martyrs," Sharp said.

    Jodi Doering, a nurse in South Dakota, in a recent series of tweets discussed the difficulty of treating some patients who deny the existence of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19—even when they've been hospitalized for the disease.

    "I can't help but think of the Covid patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don't believe the virus is real. … All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm." Doering wrote. "They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that 'stuff' because they don't have Covid because it's not real. … These people really think this isn't going to happen to them. And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated."

    Ashley Bartholomew, an RN in Texas who said she resigned from her job to protect her mental health, in a separate series of tweets also described how difficult it was to treat Covid-19 patients who didn't think the novel coronavirus is real.

    Bartholomew told NPR that it's "impossible for nurses to fight the pandemic on misinformation and also fight the pandemic of Covid at the same time."

    'I wish that I could get people to see Covid through my eyes'

    Michelle Cavanaugh, a nurse at Nebraska Medicine Medical Center, said she feels like many Americans are ignoring warnings from health care providers about the dangers of the novel coronavirus and Covid-19.

    "We're seeing the worst of the worst and these patients are dying, and you go home at the end of the night and you drive by bars and you drive by restaurants and they're packed full and people aren't wearing masks," Cavanaugh said. "I wish that I could get people to see Covid through my eyes."

    Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and professor at Brown University, said it feels to her that Americans have mostly "given up."

    "They think, 'Well, it's already spreading, it is what it is,' or 'There's no hope without the federal government acting,'" Ranney said.

    But "[t]hese thoughts are not correct and make me sad," Ranney added. "We each—as individuals—have the opportunity to make a difference."

    And as the holiday season approaches, many health providers are especially worried that the public will continue to ignore their warnings and gather with their family without taking any vital precautions to limit the coronavirus's spread. That could lead to more Covid-19 hospitalizations—and, ultimately, more deaths, some providers fear.

    "I understand that folks are desperate to see their families and may be making the choice to be willfully ignorant regarding the pandemic out of said desperation, but I fear [that] will translate into a grim reality in the new year as a portion of the cases that appear over Thanksgiving and Christmas inevitably become hospitalizations and deaths," Maimuna Majumder, a computational epidemiologist and faculty member at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, said.

    White recommends that families get together for the holidays virtually instead of in-person this year, so they can celebrate holidays together in years to come.

    "I've said to my own family, 'I'm sorry we can't get together. This is one holiday. Let's make it through this holiday so we can have future holidays," White said (Youn, The Lily, 11/18; Glenn/Inskeep, NPR, 11/18).

    How Covid-19 will impact the nursing workforce

    Nursing workforce cover

    Covid-19 will not fundamentally change nursing supply and demand but it will accelerate pre-existing trends. Collective experience in the nursing workforce will decline faster as a result of the pandemic, and care delivery will become even more complex.

    Read on to learn more about the four actions to close the widening experience-complexity gap.

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