Misinformation about the coronavirus COVID19 has been rampant for weeks, and now that factual and informative information along with strong directives from the CDC has emerged, we’re experiencing the exponential growth we’ve heard about in locations such as Asia, Europe, and Australia. Nurses are scrambling to meet the needs of patients in every possible setting. In this Year of the Nurse and Midwife, no one could have imagined we’d find ourselves in the midst of such a crisis. But nurses are the backbone of the health care system and will work to educate the lay public on how to prevent infection and protect themselves and their loved ones from exposure.

COVID19 wasn’t going to stay hidden forever, despite the efforts of the government to call it a hoax, ignore warnings from the World Health Organization in December, and try to reassure people it’s mild and going to disappear quickly. Now it’s a matter of trying to make sure laypeople have a realistic understanding of how serious this virus is, how to deal with this crisis and stay well without unnecessarily hoarding groceries and toilet paper!

Handwashing and social distancing

Proper and effective handwashing and social distancing have become integral parts of our everyday conversations. We’ve moved way past elbow bumps and forgoing handshakes. Some areas of the US are entering into mandatory self-isolation with restrictions to only visit doctors, pharmacies and grocery stores with limited hours. All of this is in the interest of quickly “flattening the curve” to reduce the speed of exponential replication of the virus.

The misinformation hasn’t stopped and there are scams cropping up everywhere keeping officials busy shutting down fake testing kits and cures. As we know, there is no treatment (antibiotics and even antivirals do not work)  and there is no vaccine, and vaccines will take about 18 months to develop. Initial testing of a vaccine without any live virus has begun, but the timeline cannot be shortened. The virus is indeed likely to disappear long before any vaccine is ready for use. And there is a critical shortage of test kits to determine if a patient has COVID19. It’s another reason for panic, but the public needs to understand that all a test can do is give a name to what they’re suffering from.  Unlike the flu virus and Tamiful which should begin within the first 48 hours of symptoms, COVID19 has no treatment other than to treat symptoms like fever and cough.

Hoarding sparked by misinformation and fear

Fear sparked by this misinformation cycle also sparked an immediate run on grocery and big box stores for hand sanitizer and toilet paper. This was followed quickly by a mad dash back to hoard food and other supplies, essentially emptying the shelves. Although this creates a re-stocking problem for the stores, there is no shortage of food and supplies. Anticipated weekly orders won’t meet what was grabbed off their shelves, but over the next couple of weeks, things should normalize provided the hoarding slows. The elderly and people with infants and small children are some of the most affected and are pleading for reasonable amounts of supplies.

 Focus on nursing

With the focus on nurses and the fact that nurses were once again voted as the most honest and ethical professionals by the Gallop Poll for the 18th consecutive year, nurses need to stand up to meet the challenge. There is a wealth of honest, factual information to ensure the public has and understands the COVID19 crisis. There is still a misunderstanding about what social distancing and self-isolating are as evidenced by parents trying to entertain housebound children with an outing to the movie theater! These instructions mean stay home!

Expect increased shortages

Additional issues nurses will face in this crisis include increased shortages due to younger nurses with children who are unexpectedly out of school for prolonged periods of time and a shortage of childcare options. Older nurses with or without chronic autoimmune diseases and decreased immunity are at high risk. Out of the approximate 4 million active RNs and LP/VNs in the US today, over 1 million are over the age of 50. In the US, the population over the age of 65 has increased from 41 million in 2011 to 71 million in 2019. The CDC and governors throughout the country are calling for all persons over the age of 60 to self-isolate. Some nurses are going to have to heed this advice because of their health status and others will continue on. The COVID19 virus is hitting the over 65 segment of the population hard.

There is a severe shortage of hospital beds and ventilators in the US today. Some cities have directed hotels to prepare for a possible influx of patients but states were told to find their own ventilators because the government cannot supply them. They were caught unprepared. Any attempts to prepare for such a crisis were thwarted when the present government fired the crisis teams from the CDC in 2018 and further refused to listen to the warnings from the WHO in December; instead calling it a HOAX.

In direct contrast, in China’s Wuhan province where the COVID19 virus started, they built a hospital in 10 days! It was started on Jan. 24 and completed on Feb 2. It’s 645,000 square feet with 1000 beds, fully equipped. The first patients were admitted on Feb. 3. And a second hospital was completed shortly thereafter which has a capacity of 1200 beds. The US is WAY behind the 8 ball in this as well as many other issues, and we’re going to struggle.

By May when the world celebrates Nurses Month during this Year of the Nurse and Midwife, nurses are going to expect more than token certificates and water bottles with the company label all over them! While self-isolating, let’s hope CEOs are making some real plans to honor their heroes.

 

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