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Coronavirus: U.S. health care workers 'taking it one minute at a time' as deaths rise

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

Health care workers across the U.S. are facing increasingly difficult conditions amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. 

Over 22,000 people around the world have died from the coronavirus. In the U.S., there are over 69,000 cases, with over 1,000 deaths so far. Between shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, along with an influx of patients, the workers are quickly becoming overwhelmed. 

“We are taking it one minute at a time, which is what you really need to do in these situations in order to accomplish a task and maintain your own resiliency,” Glenn Raup, who works at a hospital in California, told Yahoo Finance. “Here in the county, as well as at our facility, we have seen increases in cases now (both positive and negative cases) and our rates are mirroring other parts of the country as well.” 

Doctors test hospital staff with flu-like symptoms for COVID-19 at St. Barnabas hospital in the Bronx. (Photo by Misha Friedman/Getty Images)

Raup is the executive director of Emergency Behavioral and Operation Services at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. California is one of the country’s “hot spots” for coronavirus cases, with nearly 3,000 confirmed cases and 56 deaths so far. Orange County has seen 187 cases so far, with one death. Although Raup could not confirm the number of cases at his hospital, St. Joseph has reportedly treated several patients with the virus so far.  

Over 1,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

‘Absolutely no way to protect myself’

The situation is even more dire in New York, which has become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic.

One surgeon described it to the New York Times as being “at war with no ammo.” Other doctors fear getting themselves or other patients sick. “There’s absolutely no way to protect myself,” Dr. Faezah A. Bux told the Times. “Not only can I not protect myself, I can’t protect my patients.” 

Despite conducting the highest number of COVID-19 tests in the country, there is still a testing shortage in New York hospitals and emergency workers who have been exposed on the job can’t get testing unless they display major symptoms. 

At Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City, a nursing manager at the hospital died from the coronavirus. At Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, 13 people died in the span of 24 hours, and a refrigerated truck sits outside the hospital to hold the deceased to prevent morgues from being overwhelmed as well. 

“It’s apocalyptic,” Dr. Ashley Bray told the Times. 

‘It is growing tougher’

For Raup and his staff, his priorities are keeping them healthy and positive in such an environment.

“It is growing tougher across the world and U.S. for many of the health care workers to maintain their focus simply due to the fact that when they are done with handling their ‘disaster shift,’ they get to go home to ‘disaster news/social media coverage or other public and family coronavirus-related conversations,’” he said. 

Raup continued: “So it really requires a purposeful focus by health care providers to go home and turn off that non-essential stimulation and truly relax and re-energize. Overall, I believe my team is focused and they are working on targeting what they control, addressing concerns with facts when possible, and addressing fears with supportive comments when needed.” 

The coronavirus has infected over 400,000 people worldwide. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who implemented a stay-at-home order in the state, said that he is working towards obtaining 1 billion sets of gloves and hundreds of millions of gowns, surgical masks, and face shields. 

“We’re trying to bend that curve but we haven’t bent it,” Newsom told reporters in a press conference. 

In the meantime, Raup said, “we are settling in for the long haul, continuing to try to keep focused on the short-term immediate clinical needs of the patients, while remembering that this too shall pass.”

He continued: “I know the team wants to be able to remember how we responded positively to the crisis and took advantage of the opportunity to step up and be a resource of strength for our community. It is the essence of emergency care — that is what keeps us going. Remember, disaster ends with ER.” 

Adriana is a reporter and editor for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at adriana@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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