Fear and exhaustion in Detroit, state’s COVID-19 ‘epicenter’ 

Detroit Medican Center | Susan J. Demas

WASHINGTON — Tinae Moore, an emergency department technician at Detroit Medical Center, couldn’t finish her shift last Tuesday. 

She was experiencing shortness of breath and a fever — which are among the COVID-19 symptoms — so she stopped work early and was tested for coronavirus. 

She’s been in quarantine, but still doesn’t know her test results. “I live with my fiance and my two children, but I haven’t been able to see them face-to-face because I’m scared of getting them sick,” she told reporters Wednesday. “I haven’t been to work, so I’m not getting paid and I can’t keep up with my bills.”

Moore isn’t alone. She said the emergency room staff at her hospital has been cut in half in recent weeks because they haven’t had equipment to protect them from getting sick. 

Soon after the pandemic started, hospital managers took the personal protection materials usually available to staff off the shelves and “locked them away,” she said.  

Health care workers have been given “minimal protections,” since then, she said. “We’re asked to reuse our gowns for weeks at a time. We’re asked to reuse our face shields for weeks at a time and disinfect them by using wipes and storing them in our lockers,” she said. 

Meanwhile, she said, the number of emergency room patients has doubled since the pandemic started. “We just can’t take it anymore. We’re exhausted and unfortunately we don’t have anyone to turn to.” 

Working through a pandemic: Many health care workers face health risks, can’t take time off

Health care workers across the country have reported dangerous shortages of personal protective equipment as COVID-19 continues to spread. And the government’s emergency stockpile of respirator masks, gloves and other medical supplies is nearly exhausted due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. 

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told reporters Wednesday that caregivers across the country are “working without sufficient personal protective equipment.” She called on the government to “immediately — and for the duration of the crisis — procure, produce and provide ample personal protective equipment to health care workers.” 

Moore and Henry were among those who spoke on the conference call hosted Wednesday by Protect Our Care, an advocacy group that’s running ads against President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus in critical swing states: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn), an epidemiologist who also joined the call, said he’s been receiving two principal types of phone calls from his constituents lately. 

“One is those looking for unemployment support, and the second are those seeking [personal protective equipment (PPE)] who are on the front lines or for their family members or friends on the front lines.” 

Health care workers using expired gear during pandemic and ‘hoping for the best’ 

On Tuesday, he received an email from a mother who reached out on behalf of her daughter, an emergency room physician at a Michigan hospital who is “not equipped with any of the PPE she needs to protect herself so that she can fully assist others without fear for her own life and without fear for putting her family at risk for when she is exposed, only a matter of when.”

And on Wednesday, Hammoud said, “I received a Facebook message from a resident physician asking if I had any spare masks because he has been reusing his N95 mask for days. And this is a mask that you should be tossing after seeing each patient with suspected COVID-19 because of how infectious this virus is.” 

The situation was “so dire,” Hammoud said, “that we actually reached out to our superintendent and our schools that have been closed and asked for all of their goggles and protective eyewear in the chem labs and classrooms asked to donate to our local health systems in need.” 

Wayne County in Southeast Michigan — which contains both Dearborn and Detroit — has been the state’s “COVID-19 epicenter,” Hammoud said. 

The number of COVID-19 cases in Detroit shot up from 2,080 Tuesday to 2,472 Wednesday, with deaths growing from 75 to 83. For the rest of Wayne County, there were 1,998 cases and 63 deaths. 

Statewide, there had been 9,334 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Michigan as of Wednesday afternoon and 337 deaths in the state.