inFOCUS: Frontline workers and their relentless year battling COVID-19

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BERKELEY COUNTY, W.Va. (WDVM) — Frontline workers have taken the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. WDVM spoke with healthcare professionals in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle about how they are really feeling about the ongoing pandemic a year after the first signs of the virus appeared in the United States.

Donnie Grubb has been a nurse for nearly 15 years. Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he spent his days working as the Trauma Coordinator in Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg. He explained that the most jarring part of the last year has been the transition he made from the hospital to field operations around the county.

“The wildest thing in this experience for me is I’m a nurse. I’m used to being inside the walls of a hospital where I have everything at my fingertips. I have a trauma surgeon, I have a team of nurses,” Grubb explained. “But on March 18 when I was redeployed to a tent in a parking lot, it felt a little out of my norm. But we adjusted and almost a year later, I’m standing in a gymnasium and I still haven’t been back to my office.”

Grubb now spearheads the vaccination clinics across the county with fellow nurse, Angela Gray.

Gray is the Nurse Director for Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department and now the Operations Chief for vaccine points of distribution throughout the county. As a nurse with almost 3 decades of experience under her belt, she could not emphasize enough just how difficult this last year has been not only for her and her staff but also frontline workers across the country.

“It’s been tough on everyone. But in the hospitals when people were dying of COVID and their loved ones couldn’t be there, it was your ICU nurses who were there holding those hands,” Gray said.

Jay Sine is the Nursing Operations Manager for Special Care at Jefferson Medical Center. She said that the pandemic has taken its toll on her nurses both physically and emotionally.

“I think our first death here was the hardest because you can’t just go in anymore. It’s almost like we have a barrier between our patients and the care that we’re used to giving,” Sine explained. “Because as nurses, we’re touchy-feely. We hold hands and we give a hug and sometimes it’s not able to be done with COVID.”

All of these healthcare workers have stressed that they would not be able to complete their essential work without the help and support of their teammates and the community. Grubb was overcome with emotion when he began to describe some of the things he sees on a day-to-day basis at the vaccination clinic at the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center.

“When you see the state trooper pushing the 82-year-old community member in a wheelchair across the gymnasium floor so they can get their vaccine, that’s not something that you would expect,” Grubb said tearfully. “You know, we love our law enforcement. We know they’re there for us but they’ve truly stepped up and we are one team.”

Gray echoed Grubb’s emphasis and praise for other frontline workers. She recalled that many off-duty nurses or other medical workers would give her their contact information so that they could assist the vaccination efforts after their shifts at neighboring hospitals or care facilities. She also expressed how she feels heartbroken when she sees backlash against wearing a mask in public.

“We’re healthcare workers, and we’ve worn masks in different situations throughout our careers. When people didn’t want to put on a face covering to go into a grocery store for an hour that was so tough for us to watch,” Gray explained. “I’m thinking, ‘Our colleagues are doing it 12 hours out of their shift that they are left with marks on their face that looks like burns at the end of the day, and we’re complaining about putting one on for an hour?'”

As vaccination clinics continue, Grubb explained while life goes back to normal, the pandemic is still not over. He stressed that the country is still in a state of emergency as cases continue to emerge. He also said that many people, including himself, are still enduring the pandemic in what could be its most volatile form each and every day. He said that now more than ever, people must remember that our actions affect other people.

“I don’t receive a vaccine for me. I receive a vaccine for my community members. We want to make sure that this does not happen to us again.”

Donnie Grubb

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