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Pain, worry unmasked
Nurses plea for citizens to cover their faces
From left, top row: Heather Dykes and Maggie Hendler From left, bottom row: Misty Hill, Cara King and Valarie Ward - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
These people are our family. We are with them all the time. We are not robots. It is very tiring and exhausting because everybody is trying to do the right thing."
Effingham Care & Rehabilitation Infection Center Preventionist Heather Dykes

 SPRINGFIELD — The n95 masks that they wear can’t hide their emotions. Their uncovered eyes reveal a deep level of concern and weariness about the uncomfortable spot they are in because of COVID-19.

Effingham Health System nurses have been dealing with the contagious respiratory ailment for nearly six months. They have worked tirelessly to ensure that they are meeting or exceeding state and federal guidelines curb its spread, twice passing unannounced surveys by leading healthcare authorities.

Still, the nurses’ fear that they might unknowingly carry the virus into Effingham Hospital or Effingham Care and Rehabilitation Center because of a chance encounter with an infected person while away from work. 

The acquisition could happen at a grocery store or a school-related function. Actually, it could happen anywhere.

“I think (the fear of contracting COVID-19) happens a lot,” said Misty Hill, a treatment nurse.

According to the Aug. 31 Georgia Department of Community Health’s latest Long-Term Care Facility COVID-19 report, 33 Effingham Care & Rehabilitation Center staffers have tested positive in the last 10 days. 

“Some of the biggest concerns that we have are the people who don’t have symptoms that are able to pass it on to us,” added Maggie Hendler, chief nursing officer. “All those people without symptoms — if they are not wearing a mask — they can give it to you. Our level of community spread is so great that it hard for any healthcare worker to leave this building and not risk bringing it back in because we cannot go anywhere because there is not a mandatory mask requirement in the county or state and our positivity rate just keeps climbing.

“Everybody here is at risk every time we walk out of the building because our community is not doing the right thing. The people are on top of each other and they aren’t wearing masks. A lot of people are positive and they don’t know it, and they are the ones who are spreading it.

“The people who are really sick and coughing — they are staying home.”

Effingham Care & Rehabilitation Center Infection Preventionist Heather Dykes thinks young, healthy people have misconceptions about COVID-19 and that leads to trouble.

“If they get it and get sick, and don’t eat or drink for a few days, imagine what happens when an elderly person gets it,” she said. “If they don’t eat or drink for two days, it could be deadly.”

According to the Long-Term Care Facility COVID-19 report, 34 of 80 Effingham Care and Rehabilitation Center residents have the disease. Their have been eight deaths related to the virus.

“(The number of cases) is very frustrating because we see the effects of the virus,” Hill said. “A lot of people don’t understand how severe it is unless they have been in an environment like this or have a family member that they had to watch suffer. It’s sad.”

Seeing nursing home residents suffer is extremely hurtful.

“These people are our family,” Dykes said. “We are with them all the time. We are not robots.

“It is very tiring and exhausting because everybody is trying to do the right thing.”

The six nurses interviewed for this story declined to answer when asked if they had ever been treated for COVID-19. They are tested multiple times per week, a trend that will likely continue until Effingham County’s positivity rate dips to five percent.

“There is this perception that (COVID-19) is just like the flu,” Dykes said. “No one I know who has had it said it was just like the flu or less than the flu. It’s exhausting — literally.”

Valarie Ward, activities and admissions, has had great respect for the dangers of COVID-19 since the pandemic started in March. She wears a mask everywhere she goes.

“My thought process is I don’t know who has it, I don’t know who doesn’t have it and I don’t want to be the one to get it and bring it in (to the facility),” she said.

In complete unison, each nurse strongly encouraged people to wear masks and follow all other recommended guidelines to combat the virus.

Hill said, “It really boils down to — why would you not wear a mask to protect yourself and to protect others? It’s just a small gesture. It’s not like you have to go full force somewhere and wear complete quarantine clothing.

“It’s just a mask.”

Registered nurse Cara King had another suggestion.

“Handwashing,” she said. “That’s very, very important. And don’t touch your face.”

Susan Collins, a registered nurse, said people need to get used to the COVID-19 guidelines.

“I took a lot of education to my family as well because people that are not healthcare workers don’t really understand it,” she said. “It’s important to empathize with them that this may be the new normal. Some people look at it like, ‘Oh! I will be glad when it’s over!’

“Well, it may not be over soon and I think when people realize that they will be less resistant (to wearing masks).”

The nurses vowed to remain vigilant in the COVID-19 fight regardless of how long it lasts.

“We know we are doing the right thing here but we also remind people in our daily (staff) huddle to do the right things when they our out in the community because the people in our facility are not leaving,” King said. “We’re leaving everyday so we emphasize not to bring things back to the elderly and most vulnerable people.”

“People need to have a genuine concern for their community, and the people who are in it,” Hill added.