As an introvert, I was already accustomed to staying at home more than your average twenty-something and therefore confident in my ability to ride the pandemic out at home — so I thought. When the choice of staying home was taken away, I found my mental health suffering more than usual as I started to feel trapped. All of us are feeling the weight of this pandemic in one way or another, but healthcare workers are seeing a side of the situation that not everyone is privy to. My mother is a registered nurse in the Richmond, Virginia area whose urgent care center has turned into a COVID-19 testing site. She's here to give us some insight.
How long have you been a registered nurse?
Since before Christ – only kidding! I've been an RN for around 36 years. Most of that was spent working in the Emergency Room.
What department do you work in?
I work at an Outpatient Urgent Care Center that used to see a variety of cases, but now we exclusively function as a testing site for COVID-19.
What is your hospital's procedure with regard to COVID-19 patient care?
We have closed our doors and have become a COVID-19 testing clinic. We only see patients who exhibit upper respiratory symptoms that could possibly be the coronavirus. Patients stay in their car and are evaluated, treated, and tested if needed. All staff members wear full PPE when in contact with a patient and we treat all patients as if they already have the virus.
Occasionally if the patient's oxygenation is low or they are short of breath then we may send them to the ER for further care, always making sure to call ahead to let them know a patient who is potentially positive is coming. Patients sent to the ER are given a mask to wear beforehand to minimize transmission to others, and once at the ER the best course of action would be to place the patient in a negative pressure room to keep the virus from traveling airborne and escaping the room. If a negative pressure room is unavailable then the patient would be kept in a private room with the door shut.
What is the protocol if you (or another nurse) shows signs of infection?
If a nurse is at work and shows signs while working or if they feel unwell ahead of time then they must call an employee-wellness hotline which uses a symptom/exposure-based algorithm that determines whether the employee in question should get tested, self-isolate, or seek further medical attention.
Do you have enough PPE?
As of now we have enough PPE according to government regulations — nurses performing swabbing wear hair bonnets, the N-95 mask, a face shield, a gown, and gloves. We take inventory every evening before closing, then we send the report to our administration so they can keep up with ordering supplies. We do have to wear our N-95 masks for five days before receiving a new one and we store them in our own paper bags in the evening so that the virus cannot live on the material as it would on a plastic bag. If the mask becomes wet it must be thrown out immediately. Despite the reuse of masks for several days, I don't feel unsafe because of the face shields and other forms of PPE.
What is the biggest change your day-to-day has faced because of COVID-19?
We've had to increase our staff by three to four members because we've started operating outside which entails more work than normal. We can't bring patients into the building because if they're positive, the air inside the building would be contaminated and lead to increased exposure risk. In addition to the increased risk, all staff members would have full PPE if they came inside which could lead to a shortage.
How do you feel about the national news coverage of COVID-19? Accurate? Downplaying the situation?
I think it can be confusing because every news outlet has a different agenda. However, it's important to remember there are many people that are getting tested multiple times, and the current statistics count each of those tests. Ideally the number of positive/negative cases would include these factors but they don't as of now.
What is one thing you wish you could tell the country about COVID-19?
I want to say please stay home if you don't need to be out — we are all stir crazy! I understand we all want things to return to normal but in the aftermath of a pandemic like this no one really knows what normal will look like.
How is your personal life impacted by COVID-19?
I am the consummate homebody. Other than not being able to see my parents and extended family I have fared pretty well. I am very fortunate that my husband and I are still able to work during this time.