The following note came to us from a young ICU nurse in New York State. Based on other accounts we are hearing, her working conditions and the risks they put her and her colleagues in may be far from unusual at the current moment. 

Coworkers and I are feeling a vast array of emotions and one of the worst ones we feel is deserted—we hear very little from hospital administrators (except when management comes to sign out our daily masks to us).

Our earliest confirmed COVID case was not isolated or swabbed for COVID until the day he died (at which point countless staff had been exposed). Several of us nurses requested that the patient be tested earlier in his admission, but mostly due to lack of preparedness and testing protocols on the hospital’s part, the patient was not tested until the fifth day of his admission.

Meanwhile, hospital administrators had sent us text messages telling us that we were not allowed to use any masks in patient rooms unless the patient was officially ordered for isolation precautions, in anticipation of PPE shortages. So, despite our suspicions that the patient had COVID, we were not able to protect ourselves. Hospital staff like me who worked closely with the patient were not informed that he had become an official suspected case until after test results came back, resulting in widespread exposures to staff and their families. The overwhelmed occupational health department gave very little guidance for further steps to take following this initial exposure, and some staff who knew they were exposed were never contacted at all.

The entire medical ICU where I work has now been turned into a COVID or R/O COVID ICU. The two telemetry units upstairs are similarly reserved for the more stable COVID or R/O cases. We have run out of N95s. I have been reusing the N95 I received on Wednesday for all of my shifts, but the nurses who came in on Friday had none to use. Management did not bother to tell us this until we asked them why they had not dispensed them on Friday. At this point, we are reusing isolation gowns and surgical masks (one each per shift). It is an absolutely desperate situation.

We are all disturbed by the cases that we have seen—a mix of older patients with several chronic disease diagnoses sharply contrasted with patients as young as 29 with no health history requiring ventilator support (and doing very poorly nonetheless).

I am lucky that I live alone so that I can self-quarantine after shifts, but many of my colleagues are having a hard time knowing they are entering rooms with inadequate PPE and then returning home to their families. Most are trying to stay in one dedicated room within their houses.

It is a nightmare. I personally never heard back from occupational health about my earlier exposure, but it seems irrelevant at this point since I most certainly am exposed every time I go to work now.

Let us know your thoughts or experiences.