On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a "pandemic." Since then, the world has documented 75 million infections and 1.7 million deaths, and the U.S. is currently seeing its worst days in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
A group of frontline workers — respiratory therapists, nurses and lab technicians — at the Mayo Clinic expressed some of their thoughts and concerns nine months into the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This year has been a bit of a rollercoaster, starting out with stopping all elective procedures, not really knowing what to expect," said Carly Windschitl, a registered nurse at the Mayo Clinic Arizona. "We had a surge in Arizona in July and then I had the opportunity to go to Wisconsin to help out. The ability to adapt and change practice was very different for me."
Arizona is currently seeing record numbers, and on Dec. 14, the state reported over 11,000 cases. Despite the coronavirus vaccination being rolled out this week, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, warned that the U.S. would be seeing over 3,000 deaths per day for the next 60 days.
When the pandemic first hit in March, one of the biggest challenges was creating a unique test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Aimee Boerger, a lab technician at the Mayo Clinic, said that her team was able to create a test that normally takes six months to one year in the span of three weeks. Since then, she has helped to validate three more commercial tests for the novel coronavirus.
"As a technical specialist in the clinical virology lab, my job was normally to help validate and implement new tests," Boerger said. "Back in February, March, I was asked to be on a team of 15 [people] that worked to validate the first SARS-CoV-2 test at Mayo Clinic."
A major takeaway from battling the pandemic this year has been perspective, said Jeremy Perso, a respiratory therapist at the Mayo Clinic in southwest Wisconsin.
"One of the hardest things for me to see in terms of our patients has been the length of time that people are sick," Perso said. "It used to seem like a week in the hospital was a really long time to be in the hospital, and now we've got people here for weeks or more than a month."
On Friday, Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for Pfizer/BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for millions across the U.S. to start receiving the vaccine this week. However, some of these frontline workers feel as if the end of the pandemic is not quite here.
"I definitely agree that the vaccine and monoclonal antibody treatment are very promising and great moves forward," Perso said. "If I'm being totally honest, after being in the hospital, in the ICU, so I totally feel like the light at the end of the tunnel is finally here? I'd have to say no."
Perso encourages everyone in the community to be as vigilant as we ever have been and to not assume that it'll go away in the span of a few months.
"We all need to be working together to make things work," Perso added.
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