Covid-19 From the Eyes of a Frontline Worker

Nearing it’s one year old birthday, Covid-19 has upturned the lives of millions of Americans, and over 250,000 lives have been lost. Entire infrastructures from the service industry to schooling have been severely affected by the pandemic due to shutdowns, and in the midst of this country’s third wave, and talks about a second round of quarantine, it’s hard to see if things will just get better, or worse. This is especially true for Las Vegas, which is considered to be one of the country’s largest hotspots for incoming and outgoing cases. Hospitals on the other hand saw a spike in activity, and were faced with the challenge of creating new strategies to battle this looming virus. “Everyone was pretty new to how the new system was going to work, ” said Tsuvi Takahashi, a frontline healthcare worker.

Not Your Typical Workplace Incident

Assigned to clean down a cleared room where the patient had been discharged and left, Tsuvi walked in, wearing nothing but a standard blue surgical mask. Unbeknownst to him though, this was not the typical room. “Usually how we would indicate that a patient room is either an airborne droplet or contact room, is that we would mark it outside the door with a sign.” There was no warning sign outside this door. Tsuvi was tackling this room like he would any other. First take out the trash, then wipe everything down. “I was in that room for about 10-15 minutes with just a mask on, which really wasn’t enough for what that room ended up being, ” he said, “As I was cleaning, one EKG technician ended up coming in and telling me “Hey what are you doing?!” in an upset tone.” Tsuvi had been in a terminal Covid-19 room the whole time, which visibly upset him when he found out. This mistake caused weeks-worth of incident reports, along with Tsuvi being out of work for two weeks. Fortunately, he didn’t catch anything, but even in a full suit PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), Tsuvi, and many others like him, are putting their wellbeing at risk on a regular basis.

More Than a Janitor

Tsuvi Takahashi is a UNLV junior double majoring in philosophy and psychology, with an interest in working in health services. Much of this came out of his time in high school where he spent many hours volunteering at the same hospital he’d end up working in today. He now holds the title of being an Environmental Service Technician at the Dignity Health Saint Rose Hospital. “You could say, for more common purposes, janitor or housekeeper of the hospital, ” he explained, “I would likely have more responsibilities than a janitor has at a school.” And indeed he does. Along with cleaning patient rooms, he also has to come in daily contact with bio-hazardous materials, airborne/contact transmitted diseases, and patient interactions. Tsuvi started this job back in mid-February of 2020. “Around the third or fourth week I began working, is when we ended up getting our first case, ” he explained, “I only had one full week of training, and usually they like to take us and give us three full weeks of training. I guess you could say I was thrown into the fire.” 

Shortage Dilemma

The sudden roasting came out of the hospital’s limited resources, specifically in lack of staff, since many employees got sick in the beginning, leaving newer employees like Tsuvi to learn quickly and adapt. Staff wasn’t the only thing that the hospital was short on. Similarly to many hospitals across the nation, they struggled with providing their workers with the proper safety equipment (gowns, N-95 masks, eye goggles, etc.) due to shortages. Shortages mainly due to the government’s lack of creating long term supply contracts with the manufacturers who were producing hundreds of millions of PPE equipment, pre-pandemic. They did not properly invest in stockpiling this kind of equipment, leaving the manufactures to ship hundreds of millions of N-95 masks to foreign buyers rather than distributing them across hospitals in America that needed them. Tsuvi recalled how rare those masks were early on.“When we wanted an N-95 mask, we literally had to sign it out on a piece of  paper saying “hey I got this N-95, ” and once you had it, that thing was golden!” After they were done with it, they would wipe it down using hydrogen-peroxide and reuse it for other employees. “This was in retrospect, extremely…like this was the best we could do, ” Tsuvi said in a baffled tone, “but the best we could do was not at all enough.”

A Responsibility to Others

This lack of equipment not only put Tsuvi and fellow employees at risk, but it also put their loved one’s at risk as well. Tsuvi lives with his single mother, who is asthmatic, which only puts a greater deal of self responsibility on Tsuvi, making sure that he stays socially responsible in order to not track anything unwanted into the house. This is why, although being young and healthy himself, Tsuvi makes sure to follow social distancing and mask wearing procedures. “I’m coming into contact with not just my mom, who is an asthmatic person, but also patients at the hospital,  ” Tsuvi explained, “If I get this thing outside of the hospital, and I become a spreader, that’s on whoever decided to be socially irresponsible. I would hope it wouldn’t be on me.” Unfortunately, many people in this country don’t seem to want to take the same basic actions that Tsuvi does regularly to mitigate the spread of the virus, which frustrates him to no end.

Make Up Your Mind People

With America approaching what seems to be a third wave of the virus, many Americans still find themselves opposed to simple actions such as mask wearing and social distancing. This isn’t surprising considering our current presidential administration completely downplayed the virus, going so far as to lie about it’s severity early on in the beginning months. This attitude however is strange considering that the general attitude towards healthcare workers seems to be one of praise, referring to them as “heroes.” “I can recall mostly around April and May, during those months we received a lot of thank you’s. There was even one time a ton of patient families were standing outside of the hospital, spread out, with thank you signs,  ” Tsuvi recalled, “But at the same time, I would end up going home, going out to get groceries and see that it might be some of these same people that might be thanking us, who are upset that they have to wear masks over at Wal-Mart…and this dynamic was just really frustrating.” Tsuvi felt that all the pat-on-the-back attitudes he was receiving was just a very surface level type of appreciation, and that if the public wanted to really show their appreciation, they would take the necessary steps to do their part in mitigating the spread and make healthcare workers’ jobs easier.

Bleak Present, Brighter Tomorrow?

The selfish attitude portrayed by many Americans throughout this pandemic, while not entirely surprising, is definitely not helping in terms of getting through this whole mess. “This whole vision of ‘rugged individualism’ that we take here in the country, where we weren’t allowed to have a collectivized sort of mindset…it definitely didn’t help, ” explained Tsuvi. While the general public is not entirely to blame for how badly this country screwed up in handling Covid-19 — I’m looking at you government — this does not excuse those who have actively done more harm than good because of their cries of “invasion of privacy” and “individualism.” With a vaccine seemingly around the corner, and already being distributed in the UK, hopefully we can look back at this historic point in time and learn from our mistakes before the next unknown disease hits us, because who knows? That one could last much longer than a year.

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