Mariah Clark is an emergency nurse and EMT and member of her hospital’s Special Pathogens team in Madison, Wisconsin. Over the past months of the pandemic, Mariah has faced chronic stress from working in a crowded hospital with insufficient protective equipment. But her concerns are not limited to the workplace; living with her higher-risk partner, Mariah takes extra precautions at home to lower the chances of bringing coronavirus home from work with her.
“I remember our first positive case,” Mariah recalled. “It was one of the first cases in Wisconsin…And then, of course, it very rapidly just exponentially grew and became so much more common.”
Initially, the hospital distributed extra protective equipment for employees, but supply concerns led to restrictions and reuse.
“We were rapidly put on [protective equipment] rationing because we were running out. “That added an extra layer of concern,” Mariah said of the chronic stress protective equipment rations put upon hospital workers. “We were being exposed and we were worried about running out of [protective equipment]. We were worried about how this could decimate the [hospital] workforce potentially.”
Concerns around exposure to the disease were again exacerbated when the hospital reopened for non-essential medical procedures and appointments without increasing protective equipment for hospital employees.
“We’re also back to being overly full and sometimes having patients in the hallway. People are scared to be in the waiting room because it’s hard to stay far away from other people when it’s crowded,” Mariah said.
But, like many essential workers, the stress of potential contamination from crowded hospital hallways and inadequate protective equipment does not end with her shift. Mariah also worries about the possibility of spreading coronavirus to her family.
“Of course, at home I’m the biggest risk to my family. I’m the biggest risk to my loved ones because I have close prolonged contact with positive patients every day. I know that I’ve taken care of a half dozen positive patients in masks that we’re reusing. I know I’ve spent time kneeling by my patients’ beds as they’re coughing and sobbing and I’m holding their hand because they just found out they have COVID and they’re distraught. I know I’ve got a lot of exposure, so the possibility is there,” Mariah said. She has, along with her partner, even gotten tested for coronavirus, just as a precaution.
“I’ve been doing a quarantine bubble with my immediate family. I’m actually currently isolating from everyone but my partner. But there’s definitely the: ‘Oh gosh. Did I give it to my parents when we divvied up our CSA share?’ ‘Am I giving it to my sweetheart because we live in the same house?’ Mariah expressed concern around the potential for spreading the disease to her parents, who are older, or to her partner, who is at higher risk for coronavirus due to lung issues. “I’m wearing a mask around my own house right now to try to keep him from getting sick.”