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Global Health|May 12, 2020

Nurses Keep Us Safe. Let’s Do Our Part to Keep Them Safe

Mary O’Reilly, Brenda Luu, Sarah Rix


Today is International Nurses Day, and Panorama wants to thank nurses—and all caregivers—for keeping us safe and healthy—at their own expense.

From all of us, thank you for your personal sacrifices.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 20.7 million nurses and midwives in the world. Under normal circumstances, they are at risk of contracting any number of infectious diseases. But right now, as the world tries to prevent, treat, and trace COVID-19 – a disease that we still don’t fully understand – nurses are navigating an unprecedented strain on the healthcare system, a strain that requires them to do more with less – less human and financial resources, less hospital equipment, and less protective personal equipment (PPE).

The physical strain nurses endure is clear, but less visible is the enormous mental and emotional toll this pandemic has. Mary O'Reilly is close friends with a Seattle-based nurse practitioner, who tested positive for COVID-19, and had to self-quarantine away from her husband and five-month old daughter. She told us:

“I wasn't able to be in the same room as them without wearing a mask, nor was I able to hug or touch them for more than a week. During that time in early March, we did not know much about the virus and I was filled with uncertainty about my health and how it could potentially affect my loved ones.”

“By far, the most difficult thing I encounter inside the hospital is seeing my patients all alone. Normally I hold my patient's hand or hug their family members, but with this illness, none of these things happen. Visitors are restricted and sometimes we are forced to conduct challenging conversations over the phone, or worse, tell families that their loved ones have passed away. It feels so impersonal. Daily updates are done, but it is not nearly enough, nor a substitute for a face-to-face interaction.”

However, through all this, she has been reminded that “people are inherently good” and the most gratifying thing has been witnessing how many people have stepped up to help. For example, local restaurants facing financial insecurity are providing food, private citizens are sewing masks, and other healthcare providers all around the country are sharing tips with one another.

Brenda Luu, a project manager at Panorama, has a cousin who pursued a nursing career and a master’s degree that would position her to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. The population she now serves includes patients who experience anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

For Brenda’s cousin, the national response to the pandemic has been “extremely eye-opening.” The pandemic is highlighting gaps in the healthcare infrastructure, such as extreme shortages of PPE, the re-use of N95 masks, health workers’ exposure to COVID-19, and some requiring hospitalization in their own workplaces.

Despite how hard the pandemic has been, it has also brought a deeper level of connectedness among health workers. She and her colleagues share ways in which they have been taking care of their physical, mental, and emotional health: Drinking aloe vera juice to stay hydrated, taking vitamins, and finding enjoyable hobbies. Outside of their nursing community, people reach out to check-in on them, and restaurants, companies, and individuals are donating food, apparel, support, and homemade cloth facemasks.

The nurses we spoke with want the world to value these things:

  • Appreciate and support healthcare workers. Even without a global pandemic, their work always saves lives and keeps us all safe.
  • There have always been inequities within the US healthcare system, and this pandemic is only one more example of that.
  • Healthcare is a human right.
  • Prioritizing funding and investment in the healthcare infrastructure will be vital as we prepare for future pandemics.

In cities around the world people are—at a distance—cheering, clapping, and singing to thank and honor the daily sacrifices made by health workers and caregivers. Here in Seattle, we started cheering at 8pm on March 26 and have not stopped. Every evening, people make sounds of joy all over the city. This act, inspired by citizens of Italy, is now a globally recognized sign of appreciation for the people who cannot #stayhome.

With health workers doing everything they can to keep the public safe, many of us are wondering if and how we can support them in return. The truth is: We can. Every day, #StayingAtHome is the main action we can all take to support health workers and help them find relief. With the creation of new networks like the Pandemic Action Network, social distancing and other behaviors – handwashing, wearing cloth masks, etc. – are important things we can do to keep each other safe, without question or debate.

As we celebrate International Nurses Day, we thank all the nurses and caregivers for all that they are doing, and we commit to doing what we can to help them stay safe.

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