Re­turn­ing to COVID-19 frontlines, healed care­givers re­main un­easy

9,000 health care work­ers sick­ened by the virus

Kuwait Times - - Internatio­nal -

WASHINGTON: Af­ter spend­ing three weeks in iso­la­tion, Justin Jara re­turns to work Tues­day at his hos­pi­tal in Detroit, but he doesn’t have a lot of faith in the test that showed he now has an­ti­bod­ies against the new coro­n­avirus. “I still have fear, I am scared to go back to work,” the 26-year-old nurse said. “A doc­tor told me that I’m im­mune and I have an­ti­bod­ies but still, it’s not sci­en­tif­i­cally proven yet.”

Across the United States, some 9,000 health care work­ers have been sick­ened by the virus that causes COVID-19, and more than two dozen have died, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures re­leased last week. The rest, like Jara, have re­cov­ered and - as they make their way back to work - are en­ter­ing a world of un­knowns. So far, there is no proven treat­ment or vac­cine for SARS-CoV-2, and sci­en­tists don’t know whether it has long-term im­pacts on the lungs, kid­neys or other or­gans. Does in­fec­tion con­fer im­mu­nity? And if so, will that im­mu­nity be sea­sonal, like for colds, or life-long, like for measles?

Many care­givers don’t have the op­tion of work­ing from home. They’re needed back on the front­line, in many cases at the same place where they con­tracted the virus. Jara fell ill in late March, back at a time when it wasn’t deemed ne­c­es­sary for the nurses in his unit to wear pro­tec­tive gear be­cause it was a so-called “clean unit” with no coro­n­avirus pa­tients. One patient, how­ever, turned out to be infected de­spite a neg­a­tive test re­sult. Jara re­cov­ered at home, rid­ing out the high fever, mus­cle aches and short­ness of breath that char­ac­ter­ize mild cases.

But he is head­ing back to a hos­pi­tal that has com­pletely changed. The 35 beds in his unit are taken up ex­clu­sively by COVID-19 pa­tients. He had to learn, on­line, how to use the new and om­nipresent oxygen ma­chines. A new rule states that nurses can only en­ter rooms a few times per day, bar­ring an emer­gency, in or­der to limit the risk of spread. And per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment is an ab­so­lute must: masks, face shields, gowns and gloves. “I’m go­ing to prob­a­bly be re­ally cau­tious to pre­vent re­in­fec­tion for my­self,” Jara said.

Pro­tect­ing loved ones

More than a month af­ter he got infected, Richard Whe­lan, a 63-year-old col­orec­tal sur­geon in New York, doesn’t even know whether he has an­ti­bod­ies against the virus. The so­called sero­log­i­cal test isn’t widely avail­able in Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lous city, the world’s worst-hit hotspot, as it is in Detroit where Jara lives. Whe­lan was bed-rid­den for 12 days, leav­ing him “wiped out.” His hos­pi­tal, Lenox Hill, has can­celed all elec­tive pro­ce­dures, and the doc­tor is as­sist­ing in a 24bed COVID unit.

Like ev­ery­one else, he wears a mask and a gown. “I don’t want to con­tam­i­nate my wife and my daugh­ter,” Whe­lan says. He’s also un­cer­tain about his own re­cov­ery, given that his age places him in a vul­ner­a­ble cat­e­gory. “I’m not will­ing to give a blood do­na­tion of my plasma right now be­cause I need them,” says Whe­lan, as New York or­ga­nizes plasma col­lec­tions from re­cov­ered pa­tients as a form of ex­per­i­men­tal ther­apy for those who still have the dis­ease.

“I need my an­ti­bod­ies to pro­tect me.” On the other side of the coun­try, in Seat­tle, emer­gency de­part­ment nurse Terry West re­calls a sense of “relief” at be­ing among the first wave of those infected and re­cov­ered. The 55-year-old went back to work on April 5. But she can­not feel com­pletely at ease given that her hus­band is a lung cancer sur­vivor, mak­ing him vul­ner­a­ble to the dis­ease. “We al­ways gown up, we al­ways glove up, we al­ways wear a mask. I don’t want to tempt fate,” says West, who had only mod­er­ate symp­toms.

Even if the chances of re­in­fec­tion are con­sid­ered low, she doesn’t want to bring home virus par­ti­cles on her clothes and in her hair. There is one area where she is will­ing to take some risk. She reg­u­lar vol­un­teers to take care of pa­tients con­sid­ered more likely to spread the dis­ease be­cause the “BiPAP” oxygen ma­chines they are on re­lease their ex­haled air into the room. “If you’re un­sure and you have lit­tle kids at home or you have el­derly peo­ple liv­ing with you, I’m will­ing to step for­ward and go in,” she said. —AFP

WASHINGTON: Nurses protest against the lack of per­sonal pro­tec­tion equip­ment amid the covid-19 pan­demic in front of the White House in Washington, DC. —AFP

Does in­fec­tion con­fer im­mu­nity?

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