As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, some economies are opening rather quickly even as infection rates and deaths spike in new and previous hotspots. Reports of crowded parks, bars, and beaches are disconcerting amidst simultaneous reports of crowded hospitals, and even partisan divides exist where members of a certain political party are more apt to wear masks than members of another. And when conspiracy theories about the pandemic hit the mainstream, many healthcare and public health experts begin to worry.  

How does this calculation impact the professional lives of nurses as they attempt to remain focused as much of the world tries to go back to some semblance of normalcy, even as relative normalcy is far from achievable? 

Telling the Tale: Numbers and Lived Experience

With 2 million cases and over 112,000 deaths in the United States, we now see 10 states currently logging their highest daily average of new cases since the very beginning of the pandemic in late winter. The states seeing these highs are: 

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Nevada
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Texas

While some claim that increased testing is the sole reason for the increase in confirmed cases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, states that testing alone cannot be the only cause of this surge. Fauci points out that crowded bars, maskless citizens, and states relaxing restrictions both too broadly and too soon are doubtless major factors. 

Like anyone else, many nurses may themselves want to wish the pandemic away and behave like it’s spring break for all, yet the nurses who work in ICUs and ERs know differently. Physician volunteers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) who traveled to New York City and the Navajo Nation to assist with COVID-19 response have been warning others about their experiences since their recent return home. 

The San Francisco team noticed that the New York providers, who had been dealing with the situation for weeks, were seriously burnt out by the time they arrived. Some weren’t trained to care for patients with severe viral illnesses, but were asked to step in nonetheless.

One of the most challenging aspects was the lack of clear clinical guidelines for treatments. Scientists still don’t know a lot about the disease.

All of the UCSF doctors said they saw patients in their forties and fifties, who didn’t meet the ‘typical’ profile for Covid-19 because they were otherwise healthy.”

Nurses working on the front lines feel isolated and at-risk, as reported in this moving New York Times photo essay of ER nurses in Rhode Island who were actually photographed by a fellow nurse who is also a photographer.

There is apparently no convincing virus deniers and conspiracy theorists of the currently grave reality, even when we share the lived experience of healthcare professionals fighting COVID-19 up-close. Those real-life experiences and more than 1,000 Americans dying per day are the markers of how this virus is making its way through the country and the world, and the astute and earnest nurse knows that they must calmly but firmly stay focused on reality, even as other Americans lose touch with it. 

The Nurse’s Resolute Mind

A nurse wanting to remain focused on the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic can remain educated and up-to-date on the latest data and research; speak with colleagues who have their finger on the pulse of the situation; and use their own critical thinking skills as guides to action. 

Amidst the noise from the media and other sources, a sensitive nurse’s metaphorical antenna may feel overwhelmed with far too much static. In the face of such an intellectual challenge – as well as the nurse’s own emotional life and the well-being of her loved ones – the nurse’s mind must be resolutely zeroed in on the facts. Remaining grounded in the truth as demonstrated by the scientific and medical communities is a key strategy, as are self-care and personal wellness. 

The nurse’s mind – unclouded by conspiracy and fear – is the main tool at work in this scenario, and the nurse who can continue to tap their own keen mind and compassionate heart for guidance can remain steadfastly focused despite the chaotic world at the doorstep.