When I hear of people rolling their eyes over the “hysteria” of the virus, or proudly proclaiming their travel plans, as if continuing onto their cruise somehow makes them superior to anyone who is staying home out of caution, I can’t help but think of the many nurses who will be on the frontline of this virus if it does spread in numbers as it has in other countries.
Other countries, like Italy, where nurse Alessia posted a picture to Instagram with a bruised face and powerful words after working long hours caring for patients with COVID-19.
We translated the Instagram caption from Italian to English,
“I’m a nurse and in this situation, I am facing this sanitary emergency. I too am scared, but not of going buying groceries, I am scared of going to work. I am scared my mask is not sticking properly, or that I touched it with dirty gloves by mistake, or maybe that lenses do not fully cover my eyes and something goes through. I am physically exhausted because personal protective equipment hurts my body, the white coat makes you sweat and after I dress myself I can’t go to the bathroom or even drink for 6 hours. I’m psychologically tired, and just like me also all my coworkers, which have been working in this situation for weeks. But this will not prevent us from doing our job as we have always done. I will keep curing and caring after my patients, because I am proud and in love with my job. What I am now asking to whoever is reading is not to make this effort vain. Please be altruistic and stay home, so that you can protect those who are weak. We young people are not immune to the coronavirus, we can get sick too, or even worse, we can make others get the virus. I don’t have the luxury of going home in quarantine, I have to go to work and do my part. You do yours, I beg you.” – @alessiabonari_ (originally written in Italian, translated to English)
Nurses Don’t Have The Luxury To Stay Home
Because “panic” or not, the nurses will still be the ones showing up to work, the ones dealing with sweating through their shifts in their PPE, the ones risking exposure to care for anyone who does experience complications. They will be the ones calming patients who are genuinely fearful of what this virus can do to them, the ones watching when positive tests do come back, and the ones we will all turn to if the virus moves from something that is happening to “other people” and into something that affects us or our loved ones.
So while other jobs may get to make jokes about working from home, or dealing with their kids for two weeks, let’s keep in mind that nurses don’t have that luxury–and be respectful of any health measures that are recommended to try to ensure that nurses can continue to do their jobs safely.
Why Early Precautionary Measures Are Important
Early cautionary measures are important to help nurses continue to do their jobs, so let’s not discount them.
There seem to be two extreme camps of people who are preparing for COVID-19 disease:
- People who are throwing down punches over toilet paper in the Costco aisles
- People who are proclaiming that there is no need to panic over a virus that’s not even that bad, ya’ll.
And while I think there is plenty of room in the middle between being cautious and prepared for a brand-new virus to the human species that certainly has shown it can have pretty big effects in other countries, it’s also important that we realize why extreme measures are being put into place in the U.S., like closing down colleges, schools, and canceling events.
There’s A lot We Don’t Know About COVID-19 Coronavirus
The reason that government officials are taking extreme measures now before things are even “that bad” is simple: it is a way to try to slow the spread of the virus.
While there is a lot we still don’t know COVID-19 disease, we do know a few facts:
1) It’s highly contagious.
2) It can be spread more easily than the common cold or influenza viruses because of its apparent 2-week incubation period.
3) Other countries, like Italy, have demonstrated how quickly it can spread.
There’s A Huge Risk of Overwhelming The Healthcare System
Now, while the actual danger of COVID-19 may not be that high to cause mainstream panic, those of us in the healthcare world know that it’s not that simple. If the virus tends to hit a large majority of people all at once, the healthcare system in the U.S. runs the risk of being completely overwhelmed. Not only will they be dealing with actually treating the patients who do experience complications from the virus–such as those over 60 with pre-existing medical conditions, the most affected group so far–but they will most certainly be facing an influx of patients wanting and/or needing to be tested.
And then, in hospitals where confirmed cases are located, hospital staff are at risk for infection and may be asked to quarantine or continue working shifts to prevent exposure to other staff. If quarantines for healthcare staff happens, then they may be isolated from their families, causing challenges at home with childcare and home duties.
Precautions Will Help Flatten the Curve
Taking precautions now before the virus spreads is a smart move because slowing the transmission of COVID-19 down in any way possible, may help to prevent hospitals and healthcare facilities getting overwhelmed all at once.
An article by NBC News explains the strategy as “flattening the curve,” a phrase used in the field of epidemiology to explain how the goal during an outbreak is to try to reduce the number of people who are getting sick all at once, so the number stays below the healthcare system capacity. It’s when the “curve” starts going above capacity that the system becomes overwhelmed, and that has a trickle-down effect on everything else, from home life to the economy.
Managing the disease becomes not about stopping it, because at this point it’s here and it’s more than likely going to spread, it becomes about slowing it so fewer people all get infected at the same time, for the purpose of making it more manageable for healthcare professionals like nurses.
Think about it this way: what would be easier to manage–500 patients all at once, or 500 patients, spread out over the course of a week?
Let’s protect our nurses and healthcare workers, in the trenches, fighting the coronavirus COVID-19.