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Doctors and nurses feel stress of increased COVID-19 cases: 'I don't know many who will make it through another surge'

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Posted at 7:26 PM, Aug 06, 2021

MILWAUKEE — There is concern among health workers about another wave of COVID-19 infections, fueled by the more contagious delta variant.

The seven-day average for coronavirus cases statewide is more than 10 times higher than it was just a month ago.

Nurse Maddie Wheitz and Dr. Ann Sheehy both work with COVID-19 patients at UW Health.

“I know a lot of nurses on my unit, and on other units, are tired and overworked,” Wheitz said. “I don't know how many will be able to make it through another surge.”

“It's really disheartening that we are at this point,” said Dr. Ann Sheehy. “It does bring back a sense of anxiety.”

While hospitalization rates are no where near the peak we saw during the pandemic last year, Wisconsin hospitals are seeing five times the recent low of 74 patients hospitalized with coronavirus recorded on July 6.

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Health care workers, who still vow to give every patient the best care they can, cannot help but feel some frustration as the vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 right now are not vaccinated.

“It's hard when you have patients in front of you and you know they're unvaccinated,” Wheitz said.

“When the pandemic first started, we knew you couldn't do anything about it,” Dr. Sheehy said. “People stayed home, and we did the best we could. But now we have the vaccine that's proven effective, so it's a little bit harder to accept this time around to be perfectly honest.”

Misinformation is also hard to accept. Dr. Sheehy wants everyone to know the vast majority of patients who are vaccinated and still happen to get COVID-19, experience far less severe symptoms.

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Dr. Sheehy says any medications used to treat COVID-19 once a patient has it are less effective than the vaccine itself.

"Wisconsin weather is going to prompt us to spend more time indoors shortly, schools are starting back up - this is the perfect time to get that vaccine,” she said. “It’s safe, it’s effective and it can prevent severe illness.”

Very few people have seen the true effects of COVID-19 like frontline doctors and nurses. It's led many of them to leave the field over the past few months. They acknowledge they can't go through it again.

“This has prompted people to retire, and to think do I really want this career?” Dr. Sheehy said. “It was a frightening year and a half for us.”

Many Wisconsin hospitals are working to recruit more doctors and nurses to meet demand. According to the 2020 RN Workforce Report, Wisconsin will see a 58 percent reduction in nurse faculty over the next five to ten years.

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