ucmc

A car enters the University of Chicago Medicine’s drive-through COVID-19 testing facility on March 20. 

Two nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) — one who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and another who has not — say nurses at the hospital need more supplies and transparency to deal with the escalating coronavirus outbreak in the city.

"I'm doing OK. I'm hanging in there," said the infected nurse, who asked not to be identified, in an interview arranged by her Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United union.

She was not feeling well earlier this week, which she at first ascribed to seasonal allergies and asthma, but eventually called a hotline and got tested curbside. She got the results on Thursday. She is experiencing congestion, fatigue, a wet cough, a headache and fevers.

She does not know how she was infected: "We were following all the precautions. We do need supplies to keep our patients safe, but I don't really know how I contracted it.

"I just think the main issues at hand are that we need supplies. I was given supplies, but everything is just kind of in uproar right now. We need supplies just for our safety and for our patients' safety as well."

The nurse said her colleagues need more N95 respirators, more droplet masks, face shields, glasses, gowns — "PPE," she said. "Personal protective equipment."

Cincerlyn Lewis, a cardiology nurse at UCMC, said N95s have been secured at the hospital. "If you get a patient who tests positive or that's going to be ruled-out for the COVID virus, then they will give you one mask for you to go in and out of the room."

When nurses leave the room with the patients, they are asked to put the N95 in a plastic bag. "And basically, that's your mask for the day," Lewis said.

COVID-19 can be spread by asymptomatic people, and Lewis fears for the possibility of such spread among nurses at the UCMC who are not wearing masks. She said the UCMC is not telling nurses how many infected or suspected COVID-19 patients are being treated at the hospital because of their privacy policy and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); the UCMC did not return the Herald's request for comment.

"That's part of the issue, is that there's no line of transparency and clear communication about what's going on," Lewis said, though she said she knows "a couple of" nurses and a doctor have tested positive. One of Lewis' colleagues with whom she worked a 12-hour shift on Saturday is now quarantined at home because she was exposed to it.

"No one from the hospital has said anything to us. All the information is being passed word of mouth, which is really part of the problem. We need them to be transparent and forthcoming with this information, so that we can help protect ourselves and our other patients," she said.

Lewis said the UCMC has blocked off a floor and built it up to be a negative pressure area, which causes air to flow into and not out of the area to prevent the spread of airborne disease.

"There's a lot of concern between the health care professionals right now," she said. "We're trying to do our best to keep this under control." Nurses are washing hands and sanitizing stations and equipment often. `

"I do believe that it is a crisis. Right now it seems to be under control, but there's still not enough information out there for us to be certain," Lewis said. But not knowing who is or is suspected to be infected and that the hospital, she said, is telling nurses who have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms to go home and self-monitor "leaves a lot of uncertainty in the air."

"I'm worried; I'm concerned; I'm concerned for my family, because they're not feeling well," said the nurse with COVID-19. "I'm concerned for the patients. I'm just concerned. I'm worried for the world as a whole right now."

"The take-home is just that the nurses need to be protected and the staff need to be protected in order to protect our parents and help them heal," she said. And she called for donations, though it is unclear if the UCMC is accepting them: "More and more people are going to be getting sick, and our whole thing is to protect and serve the public and be there for our patients."

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