April 8, 2020 / LEILA FADEL
At one New York City hospital, a doctor’s used mask tore as she performed CPR on her infected patient.
In Seattle, a nurse compares walking into her intensive care unit to bathing in COVID-19.
And in St. Louis, a nurse slips her used N95 mask into a paper bag at the end of her shift and prays that it’s disinfected properly.
These are scenes playing out in hospitals across the country, based on interviews with more than a dozen residents, doctors and nurses who go into work every day feeling unprotected from the disease they’re supposed to treat.
Nearly a month into the declared pandemic, some health care workers say they’re exhausted and burning out from the stress of treating a stream of critically ill patients in an increasingly overstretched health care system. Many are questioning how long they can risk their own health. Some are falling sick themselves, and even dying. In many hospitals, the pandemic has transformed emergency rooms and upended protocols and precautions that workers previously took for granted.
“It’s like walking into Chernobyl without any gear,” said Jacklyn, an ER doctor at a New York City hospital who asked to go by her middle name for fear of being fired over speaking out.
At her hospital 90% of patients have COVID-19, but health care workers get only one N95 mask every five days.